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No county money for Carolina Panthers, Mecklenburg manager Diorio says

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said the county not help the Carolina Panthers or the Charlotte Hornets financially.
Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said the county not help the Carolina Panthers or the Charlotte Hornets financially.

Sports team owners shouldn't get their hopes up for additional public subsidies even though the county is spending up to $30 million to bring a tennis center to the River Distric. Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said Thursday that the county won't spend money on the Carolina Panthers or Charlotte Hornets.

The city of Charlotte has traditionally funded sports arenas and many subsidies for economic development projects. During the debate over the tennis complex, Commissioner Pat Cotham asked whether the county would be setting a precedent by spending public money on the proposed tennis complex. She asked: Would the Panthers or Hornets expect similar help from county taxpayers?

Diorio said no.

“And I have had a conversation with (Panthers owner) David Tepper in the past, that the county would not participate in any financial support for stadium upgrades because of what you (Cotham) said — that the city has a specific tax that’s dedicated to that purpose and the county does not have that,” she told commissioners.

Diorio was referring to the taxes on hotel rooms and prepared food and beverages that the city collects countywide. That money can only be used for tourism projects.

Tepper has discussed publicly the need for either a new stadium or significant renovations to Bank of America Stadium. City Council members earlier this year disclosed in closed session a vague proposal for a major renovation of the existing stadium, which could cost more than $1 billion. The public could be asked to contribute half of that money.

The city of Charlotte agreed to pay for the last two rounds of stadium improvements without the county’s help, in 2013 and in 2019. The state also didn’t contribute to those rounds of improvements. But those cost far less — Charlotte approved spending $87.5 million on the 2013 renovations, for example.

(In 2019, the City Council approved spending $110 million to renovate the stadium for soccer and to help Charlotte FC build a soccer facility at Eastland Mall. When the team pulled out of the Eastland project, it did not receive any of the $110 million for stadium improvements.)

While Diorio said the county is out, the Panthers are already receiving financial help from a new state law that expands sports betting in North Carolina. The team will receive new sponsorship money from a gambling company that’s expected to be granted a license to take bets at Bank of America Stadium.

The Charlotte Ledger reported that each new gambling license could be worth as much as $40 million annually. It’s unclear how much money the Panthers might receive from their sponsorship deal with a company like Caesars or Harrah’s.

Diorio said the difference between the proposed tennis complex and the Panthers is that the tennis complex is “a new opportunity.”

“We are in a competitive situation we’re trying to lure this event away from where it’s currently located,” Diorio said.

What wasn’t discussed is that any future debate over renovating Bank of America Stadium will also be a competitive situation because Tepper can move the team if taxpayers don’t deliver. A decade ago, when City Council members were considering spending $75 million on stadium improvements some city leaders were worried the team might move to Los Angeles.

Charleston-based Beemok Sports has proposed building a $400 million tennis facility west of the airport.

The city has committed $65 million from those tourism taxes for the tennis complex. The county has said the state will also contribute $25 million, bringing the total public investment to $110 million.

The complex is contingent upon Beemok moving the Western & Southern Open professional tennis tournament from suburban Cincinnati to Charlotte.

Commissioners voted 7-2 to approve spending up to $30 million on the complex.

This story has been updated to show that Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC owner David Tepper ended up paying for stadium renovations in 2019 after he pulled out of a plan to build a soccer facility at Eastland Mall.

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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.