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Charlotte Struggles To Explain $110M In Soccer Incentives

Steve Harrison/WFAE
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles has said the city has made a $110 million committment to David Tepper. She then said the money has not been pledged to the soccer team owner.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles – and other city leaders – have said different things about public money going to the city’s Major League Soccer team.

On the city’s Instagram account, the mayor said – three times - that the city has made a financial commitment.


"But there is a financial commitment that we’ve made," Lyles said. "That financial commitment is for $110 million. That’s going to come out of our hospitality tax funds. Now, why did we make this commitment? We believe the community investment at Eastland is worth our participation infrastructure and land." 

Commitment means the money is, well, committed, right? 

But when talking to media Tuesday, Lyles was asked numerous questions about that $110 million. And she backed off the near certainty of her Instagram message. 

"The money is not pledged," she said. "It’s in reserve."

So if the money is only in reserve – and not actually committed --  does that mean that Tepper thinks he might not get that money?

Not exactly.

"And if you have a partner that gives their word on something, you hope they keep their word," Tepper said during Tuesday's news conference.

So for Tepper, the city council’s decision was akin to a promise – i.e. keeping its word.  Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said the City Council’s "courage” in allocating the money was critical to Charlotte getting the team.

But Republican council member Tariq Bokhari suggested that Tepper might not get $110 million, despite what Tepper and the MLS think -- and despite what the mayor said about a commitment.

"I don’t want to give the impression that the deal is done and $110 million is going out the door," he said. "That is not the case at all."

Instead of a commitment, Bokhari said the city has made a "good faith effort."

Other cities that have recently secured MLS franchises have spent much less than $110 million in public money.

In discussing that good faith effort – or commitment -- Lyles and other council members haven’t said whether city staff presented them with details about how much public money other cities allocated to their MLS teams.

And Bokhari was asked: Did Tepper or city staff tell council members how much money Tepper expects to spend improving Bank of America Stadium, along with a new headquarters and practice facility at Eastland?

"Absolutely not," Bokhari said. "Because we have no idea of the breakout of the topics, let alone the plan at this point. The whole thing was, 'Let’s not jam in a plan that could take a year or two to build in multi-phases or parts inside a month or two, just so we can figure this out."

So, how did council decide on the number of $110 million?

Bokhari said the $110 million was how much debt capacity the city had from its tourism taxes, which are levied on hotel rooms and restaurant and bar tabs. And he was comfortable with committing – or setting aside – all of that money.

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.