The Carolina Panthers are ending their agreements with the city of Rock Hillto build its headquarters as part of a 240-acre site owned by the organization in York County, the team said this morning.
Parent company Tepper Sports & Entertainment released the following statement without additional comment:
“On February 26, 2021, the City of Rock Hill became delinquent on their obligation to fund the public infrastructure. Despite our persistent efforts throughout 2021, the City of Rock Hill failed to issue the bonds or provide the funding for the public infrastructure for the project.
“On March 18, 2022, GTRE issued a default notice and the City did not cure its default within the prescribed 30-day cure period. It is unfortunate that some recently decided to conduct a misguided, destructive public relations campaign to obscure their failures.
“We have sent notices to the City to formally terminate the previous agreements. Accordingly, we are prepared to sit down with the City and other interested parties to discuss the significant challenges ahead.”
GTRE is the Tepper Sports-owned entity created to preside over the project. Tepper Sports is owned by David Tepper, the hedge-fund trader who bought the Panthers in 2018 for $2.275 billion. Tepper is the NFL’s richest owner with a personal fortune estimated at nearly $17 billion.
Tepper Sports and the Panthers negotiated $400 million worth of state and local incentives for the Rock Hill headquarters, scheduled to open next summer. Those incentives included $225 million in infrastructure improvements including water, sewer, roads and utilities, to be funded through bonds issued by the city of Rock Hill.
Those bonds never were issued and, 20 months into a 36-month construction schedule, the Panthers pulled the plug last month. At the time, political and business leaders in Rock Hill, York County and South Carolina anticipated a quick resolution.
The city of Rock Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBJ on Tuesday morning.
York County approved an alternative financing plan that would have provided the same $225 million but without bonds. The city endorsed the idea, but Tepper and the Panthers never responded.
Today, they got an answer, but not the one they wanted. Tepper Sports envisioned up to $2 billion in private investment for the site near Interstate 77, to be developed over two decades with a mix of trails, open spaces, offices, retail, restaurants and other features surrounding a 50-acre team practice and training center with multiple fields, conditioning and nutrition areas, and administrative offices.
Tension has been building in recent weeks as the site sits dormant.
On April 5, S.C. Sen. Wes Climer, a York Republican whose district includes the Panthers headquarters site, told CBJ that Tepper and the Panthers had failed to follow through on their pledges.
“The bottom line is that our community deserves answers, Climer said. “The city, the county, the state and the Panthers worked together constructively for a considerable period of time at great effort to bring to Rock Hill a world-class sports entertainment center. David Tepper came to Rock Hill promising us Jerry Jones and ever since then he’s given us Dan Snyder.”
Snyder is the owner of the NFL Washington Commanders, a franchise engulfed in controversy over alleged workplace misconduct and possible violations of league revenue-sharing requirements. Jones owns the NFL Dallas Cowboys and has come under scrutiny for workplace and personal issues, but the Cowboys’ team headquarters in suburban Dallas is considered a model project for what Tepper envisioned in Rock Hill.
Five days later, Congressman Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican, followed with a lengthy statement lamenting the stalled Panthers project.
“Mr. Tepper could be the catalyst for thousands of new jobs and have a monumental impact on South Carolina’s economy that will seal his legacy for generations to come,” Norman said, in part. “That’s what is ultimately at stake here, and why it was so shocking when Tepper Sports unexpectedly paused construction over a month ago; a blow that, since then, has been compounded by the organization’s unexplainable silence. ...”
While the Panthers broke their silence today, there are still numerous questions that remain unanswered.