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Charlotte Offering $110M In Tax Money To Lure MLS. Questions Remain About Spending, Impact

David Boraks

It was no surprise when it was announced Tuesday that Charlotte is getting a Major League Soccer expansion team.

But elected officials at the announcement didn’t reveal details of how the city of Charlotte and owner David Tepper will spend $110 million in public money set aside for the team’s stadium, headquarters and even an entertainment district.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber shared the stage with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, who will also own the new soccer team.

Tepper clearly had the most fun. Like the moment when he sang — or tried to.

"Well, since I came to Charlotte, I find a new place to live," Tepper sang to cheers. "It’s going to be the greatest city for MLS to be in."

Tepper also took a shot at Atlanta, whose football team, the Falcons, is a Panthers rival. Atlanta also has an MLS team.

"That other city, there’s another city down the road, to the west," Tepper said. "Charlotte is hot. OK, we’re the hot city. Screw that other city, OK? We’re going to have one hell of a rivalry."

Charlotte’s will be MLS’s 30th team, joining Miami, Nashville, St. Louis and Sacramento as the league’s newest teams.

Garber also thanked local politicians — particularly members of City Council.

"It’s hard to have the courage to make those decisions, to make days like this happen," Garber said of the council.

In invoking courage, Garber was referring to council members' decision in closed session to spend $110 million to help bring the team to Charlotte.

The money would come from taxes on hotel rooms and restaurant and bar tabs. By state law, that money has to go to tourism projects.

Compared with what other cities have spent to land MLS teams, Charlotte’s allocation is one of the highest in the league.

Other cities have given money – but it’s usually in the tens of millions of dollars. Not more than $100 million.

A new $250 million soccer stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota, for instance, opened this year and was privately financed. Taxpayers did contribute $20 million for infrastructure around the stadium.

After the announcement, Lyles was asked numerous questions about that financial commitment.

One question: When council members discussed the soccer deal behind closed doors, did city staff present them with detailed information on how much other cities spent?

"The money is not pledged," Lyles said. "It’s in reserve, and it’s in reserve as we complete two development plans. The east side, as well as our entertainment district on the west side."

When Lyles mentions the east side, she is referring to Tepper’s plans to build the team’s headquarters and practice facility at the old Eastland Mall site. The city has tried and failed to bring development there since buying and demolishing the mall six years ago.

As for the west, she’s talking about land a block or two west of Bank of America Stadium.

Tepper said he wants to build an entertainment district there, including a music venue on the team’s practice fields on South Cedar Street. The team won’t need those fields when it opens its new practice facility in South Carolina.

It’s unclear how much public money would go into that proposed entertainment district. That could be one of the most controversial parts of the incentives, considering that area is inside the Interstate 277 corridor, and only a few blocks from the heart of uptown, where new skyscrapers are being built without public money.

Tepper said he'll probably spend at least half of the city’s $110 million on building the headquarters at Eastland.

Council members still have to vote on the $110 million in open session. Tepper was asked what he would do if City Council – which now includes three new members – approved less than the $110 million pledged in November.

Tepper said it would be cheaper to build the team’s headquarters somewhere else, like the Panthers' planned home in Rock Hill.

"I mean, we could build just a practice facility," Tepper said. "I have another practice facility that’s being built just somewhere else where we have s***load of land. Wait, let me not say that word. Where we have a lot of land. We can do it down there. But if we can do this partnership which is not operationally cheaper for me to do as you guys can imagine, we’ll do it."

Tepper wouldn’t say how much Bank of America Stadium renovations will cost. Among the changes – creating a midfield tunnel for players to enter, which is a soccer tradition. He will also build new locker rooms.

It’s unclear how much of the city’s $110 million would cover those improvements.

Tepper also has to pay an expansion fee. It was $200 million for the 28th and 29th franchises, but it’s expected to be his fee will be at least $300 million.


Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.