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Why the Carolina Panthers are halting construction on their new Rock Hill headquarters

panthers rock hill facility 2 panthers credit.JPG
Lester Barnes III
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Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers' construction project in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is seen in an undated photo posted by the team to its website.

The Carolina Panthers have put a pause on construction of their headquarters in Rock Hill, South Carolina, saying the city hasn't met its financial obligations. City officials say they have not issued bonds yet to meet their financial obligation.

The Charlotte Business Journal's Erik Spanberg joined WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn to help sort through the details.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Erik, quickly give us a sense of the scope of this headquarters plan for Rock Hill.

Erik Spanberg: So, it's a really large project. It is a 240-acre site that the Panthers and David Tepper bought. And of that 240 acres, 50 acres would be devoted to the Panthers' fields and headquarters. And the idea was to use the rest of it to bring in hotels and restaurants and build walking paths and make it a mixed-use development, as they call it in the real estate world.

Glenn: OK, yeah, it's really large. Now, Tepper Sports and Entertainment is the parent company of the Panthers. What did officials there say exactly are their reasons for pausing construction? And what will it take to restart it?

Erik Spanberg: Well, they're saying what you said at the start of this segment, which is that the city has not issued the bonds, has not made good on its promises to help pay for the streets and other infrastructure around this project. And in essence, they're saying that this has gone on for long enough and they're going to stop — "pause" is the word they used — they're going to stop building until they get this resolved.

And on the flip side, Gwendolyn, you've had the city at first saying, "Well, we haven't missed any payments. We've done what we're supposed to do." And then later saying, "Well, yeah, we did not issue these bonds." So, there's still a little bit of a question as to exactly what's driving the lack of investment or making good on the commitment that was struck with the Panthers originally.

Glenn: Well, explain how the bonds affect this entire project.

Spanberg: So, the idea was that Rock Hill would contribute roughly $225 million worth of road improvements, sewer, water — all the things that need to happen for you to build a big project on a piece of land that has been unoccupied; it has not been commercially used. And those things have not happened yet. The bonds would have paid for those projects, and so the Panthers kept building. They are 20 months into a 36-month construction schedule.

They say they've spent about $170 million so far working on their headquarters. In essence, they're pulling the plug and saying, "We have to fix this somehow, some way." And a lot of people that are watching this — both near and far — are saying, "Well, we might have a little bit of bluffing or a little bit of a game of chicken. We'll see how this turns out." But so far, that's where we stand.

Glenn: Well, have officials in Rock Hill said why they haven't issued the bonds? And have they said when they will?

Spanberg: They have not, to my knowledge. We have been trying to find that answer. I know a lot of other reporters have been trying to find that answer. As of this day and this hour, we don't have a good explanation or really any explanation as to why this has not happened. In December of 2021, the mayor of Rock Hill, in essence, declared this a finished project — you know, "We're ready, we've committed."

And that night, the local government in Rock Hill said they would have the bonds issued probably by the end of February of 2022. And it looks like that's what really sparked this move this week is that that did not happen in February. And then the Panthers said they weren't going to wait any longer.

Glenn: Well, what percentage of the construction of this project is completed?

Spanberg: We're 20 months into a 36-month construction schedule, so that means you're over halfway there. They had done some tours. I think it was last year we all went on a media tour. At that time, there were about 340 workers a day on the site, and that day the Panthers told us there would be up to 800 workers on the site as they moved closer to getting this project finished. So, already, you've had significant presence there. You've had all kinds of projects being built.

And by the way, if anyone drives by on Interstate 77, you can see it. You can see the structure sticking up out of the ground. It is a massive project that they are looking at. The team headquarters alone is 600,000 square feet. They're going to have five outdoor practice fields. They're going to have a 5,000-seat outdoor stadium. It just goes on and on. I could make you really fall asleep with all the details, but it is comprehensive — let's put it that way.

Glenn: Yeah, and you're right, when you're driving down I-77, you can see that humongous project. Is there any chance they'll walk away?

Spanberg: Everyone seems to think that that is highly unlikely. They look at this and say, "There's too much at stake for everyone here." For Rock Hill and York County and the state of South Carolina, they have all said this is going to be a catalyst for further economic development. They also love that it ties in with all of the youth and amateur sports facilities that local government has built to develop a sports tourism model.

And for the Panthers, after you're $170 million into a project and you have all these plans, it seems like it would be very difficult to walk away. I will mention one thing, Gwendolyn. Remember, David Tepper is the NFL's richest owner. He's worth $16 billion. So, if anybody could look at $170 million and say, "I might walk away," he would be the one. But people that make that kind of money generally don't like to see it go to waste.

Glenn: OK, well, Erik, thanks for filling us in.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.