‘Vital’ investment or ‘shakedown’? Charlotte speaks out on $650M for Panthers stadium

Charlotte City Council members heard conflicting views from a half-filled chamber Monday on whether to contribute hundreds of millions to renovations to Bank of America Stadium.

The council held a public hearing a week ahead of its scheduled vote on Tepper Sports & Entertainment’s plan for the largest and most expensive renovation yet to the home of the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC. The stadium also hosts college football games, such as the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, and concerts.

The plan calls for $650 million in city money, which would come from hospitality tax revenue. That money can only be spent on a limited number of tourism-related projects. The plan includes a 20-year non-relocation agreement for both teams, though that could be bought out after 15 years.

Charlotte initially didn’t plan a public hearing — only the regular public forum on the same day as the full council’s vote. But the city held Monday’s hearing after some council members said they needed to hear more public input. Some online questioned whether the city was limiting public comment by holding the hearing during business hours on a weekday and not publicizing it more.

Hundreds also submitted their thoughts on the plan through an online form, and those comments primarily opposed the deal.

Of the 23 people who spoke Monday, 15 supported the project and six opposed it. Others offered more mixed opinions.

Those who spoke in support of public investment in the stadium said it’s essential to maintaining an asset to the city’s economy. But others questioned the plan, whether the city has been transparent about it and team owner David Tepper’s history.

Bank of America Stadium renovation plan comments

Here’s what residents said Monday about the proposal:

“These funds are specifically earmarked for hospitality-related projects, ensuring that our investment directly benefits our community,” said Vinay Patel, SREE Hotels president and CEO and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority board member, on tourism taxes being used to fund stadium renovations.

“We’ll make it the best outdoor stadium in America, which will have tremendous impact as we compete with these other cities,” said Danny Morrison, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, on the possibility of an upgraded stadium drawing major events to Charlotte.

“If our investment does not come with any kind of tangible financial benefit, it’s not truly an investment. It’s a shakedown,” said Charlotte resident Bobby Lord, questioning why the city would invest in a stadium it doesn’t own or get a portion of ticket sales from.

“Your handling of this has made clear transparency is anything but a priority,” said Grace Fendrick, organizer of petition in opposition to public investment in the stadium, questioning how the city has handled the process. Fendrick was among those who spoke on social media ahead of Monday’s meeting with concerns it wasn’t better publicized.

“Beyoncé thought the stadium was okay. If it’s good enough for Beyoncé, it’s good enough for half the city,” said Charlotte resident Sylvia Cobb, sharing doubts about whether stadium upgrades are a worthwhile public investment.

What’s next for Panthers plan

Mayor Vi Lyles thanked the crowd for offering an “array” of views on the proposal.

“You’ve given us a lot to think about,” she said.

The City Council didn’t vote or take any action based on Monday’s comments. It’s expected to vote on the plan June 24.

City Council approves rezoning for Panthers practice facility

City Council members also voted unanimously Monday to approve a Panthers’ rezoning petition to make way for the team’s new practice facility.

The rezoning request was for 12 acres on the east side of South Cedar Street. The Panthers want to expand their footprint with a new fieldhouse, outdoor practice fields and a fan area after announcing they would move training camp to Charlotte from Wofford College.

Some in the community had raised concerns about the project, including asking questions about whether a well-used pedestrian path would be blocked. But city staff and the team said the pathway won’t go away and instead will be widened in places.

Both city planning staff and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee recommended the council approve the project.

Council member Malcolm Graham, whose District 2 includes the site, applauded the Panthers team and the community for working together to address concerns.

“This really has been a collaboration,” he said.

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