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Judge approves bankruptcy settlement over failed Panthers headquarters

The Carolina Panthers posted this photo of a team development under construction in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Lester Barnes III/Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers posted this photo of a team development under construction in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Updated Dec. 16, 2022, 12:46 p.m.

A federal judge has approved a settlement between a real estate company owned by Carolina Panther's owner David Tepper and contractors, York County and the city of Rock Hill in the bankruptcy of the failed Panthers headquarters and practice facility project.

At a virtual hearing Thursday afternoon, Judge Karen B. Owens said she intended to approve the settlement as soon as attorneys finished making final adjustments, and thanked all the parties who were involved.

"Congratulations to everyone. We are at the finish line. It is a momentous day, and although it is a difficult ending, I hope everyone's pleased with themselves, because it really is a great result," Owens said. Her final sign-off could be as early as late Thursday.

"It's clear the parties really were trying to achieve here a workable solution to benefit all parties and interests, and I appreciate that as well as the contractors and all the other creditors in the case ... no doubt," she added.

By midday Friday, online court documents showed the final settlement had been approved.

The case puts an end to Tepper's failed quest to bring an $800 million headquarters and state-of-the-art sports facility to Rock Hill, off Interstate 77. South Carolina officials saw hopes dashed that the project would kick off a major economic boom in the upstate.

The previously negotiated settlement terms require:

  • GT Real Estate Holdings and Rock Hill to drop dueling lawsuits against each other. Rock Hill will then take over the land that the unfinished headquarters sits on and continue efforts to sell the site.

    When the 240-acre site is sold and claims are paid off, Rock Hill will get to keep $20 million from the sale.

  • Contractors owed money from construction would receive $60.5 million to settle their claims.
  • GT Real Estate also agreed to pay back $21 million to York County as part ofa separate settlement reached this month in a dispute over sales tax money given to the project. York County will drop its lawsuit against GT Real Estate alleging the funds were misspent.

    A separate, criminal investigation launched by the York County Sheriff's Office, the local prosecutor and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division into the transfer and use of those funds remains ongoing.
    "This agreement was reached with county government and not the Sheriff’s Office and does nothing to affect the current investigation into the possible misuse of public funds," said York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson, in a statement.

The settlement comes nine months after construction abruptly stopped on facility for the Panthers in Rock Hill.

Tepper’s real estate company halted construction in March, accusing Rock Hill of failing to issue bonds that would help pay for road improvements, sidewalks and infrastructure around the project.

The company had already spent more than $175 million on the project when construction ended. GTRE then announced plans in June to file for bankruptcy protection.

The half-finished headquarters and practice facility still sit off Interstate 77 about 25 miles south of uptown Charlotte. The abandoned steel superstructure is visible from the interstate. The state of South Carolina has completed a new interstate exchange leading to the property.

WFAE has reached out to attorneys for comment.

WFAE Senior Editor for News & Planning Ely Portillo contributed.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal