BizWorthy: Could Charlotte Pay For Stadium Upgrades To Lure Major League Soccer?

Sep 26, 2019

It appears Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is asking the city for a big sum to upgrade Bank of America stadium - up to about $200 million. However, this money isn’t for football, it would be for soccer. 

Several news outlets report Charlotte City Council heard the request Monday night in a closed-door session. The ask includes money for a team office and practice facility. The Charlotte Ledger’s Tony Mecia joins WFAE "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf with more on that and other business news for this week’s Bizworthy segment.

Lisa Worf: Is the ask for soccer a surprise, then?

Tony Mecia: Well, I think most people were anticipating the one for football. You know, he came out this summer and said he'd like a new domed stadium uptown, would like taxpayers to participate in that. You know, those usually cost about $2 billion. The thinking was maybe taxpayers would somehow pay for around half of that.

You know, the big question, obviously, Lisa, is where's this money coming from? Does the city have this money? The city has a lot of needs: you know, affordable housing, public safety — you could go down the list.

This is money that would probably come from hospitality taxes, which are hotel- motel taxes, prepared food taxes, rental car taxes. The city has been setting money aside, so it does have money earmarked for what they had thought had been improvements to the Panthers stadium. There are also a lot of other organizations in town that would like a piece of this money.

It can only really be used for tourism-related projects, but it goes for a lot of different things. It goes for upkeep on the basketball arena for the Hornets, it goes to NASCAR Hall of Fame. Discovery Place is talking about refurbishing itself. And so the question is: If they go ahead and give money here, what does that do to all these other needs?

Worf: Especially if they know and ask is coming down the road for potentially a new stadium, what are the odds that they're going to grant this request for soccer money?

Mecia: It's really interesting to see. I mean, I think City Council will be hard pressed to deny this. I think this current City Council is very inclined to want to support this and to bring pro soccer here. It's a little bit of a different demographic than a football demographic or basketball demographic.

And so, I think there is a lot of appeal for City Council members to go ahead and approve this. But, yes, the big question is, does it make sense if you're going to redo Bank of America Stadium down the line? Does it make sense to be putting money to upfits to Bank of America Stadium if you're going to demolish it and build a new stadium? So, it's just a question of how can that money be spread around. Is there enough of it to go around? And, down the line, where does that money come from?

Worf: Talking about City Council: You ran some numbers last week on campaign contributions to City Council members. What did you find there?

Mecia: Sure. I looked at campaign contributions for the month of August. This is the month before the primary elections that we had earlier this month and just looked at those contributions to see what's the profile of people who are donating to these campaigns, and what I found, it was really interesting.

I knew it would be high — wasn't quite sure it would be this high, but about 39% of the money donated to City Council and mayoral candidates in August came from the real estate community — real estate developers, land brokers, realtors, people in the construction industry, people that are very interested in what the City Council is doing.

Worf: Do we know how these contributions are affecting zoning decisions at all? I mean, is there any bearing on that?

Mecia: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, I think developers and people who are donating would say that they sort of want to get the ear of some of these elected officials. They want to have their calls returned. They want to help these officials make better decisions. If you look at the rezoning petitions, the overwhelming number of those are approved. There was a study out by UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute last week that said about 88% of rezoning petitions are approved.

Now, there are other reasons for that. I don't think we can draw a straight line and say they're donating money to these City Council candidates and so, therefore, all the rezoning petitions are approved. A lot of times, you know, city staff has a big role in this in working with the developers and making sure they follow the city's rules in trying to make things a little more palatable. But, you know, you look at those sort of in a vacuum and you say, "hmm."

Worf: So, as of last week, Speedway Motorsports is now private, but some shareholders are trying to contest the sale. What's going on there?

Mecia: Well, this is not uncommon when you have a company that's a public company that is taken private, that you have some shareholders who are upset about that. The deal is that Speedway Motorsports, which operates a number of racetracks around the country, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, that it reached a deal with its executives for the executives to buy the company and take it private.

And so, the allegation from the shareholders is that, well, that's sort of self dealing, that was a self-interested kind of deal. And even though shareholders saw the value of the shares that they held go up and made money on it, that it could have gone up even more if Bruton Smith and his family and the other executives at Speedway Motorsports had done a better job of marketing it to other companies that might be interested in buying it.

So, there's a lawsuit filed, there are other plaintiffs lawyers who are circling, who are saying, "Hey, you know, this company is undervalued and the shareholders could have made out a lot better."

Worf: We had another big jobs announcement this week. Customer service company Chime Solutions announced it's hiring 1,000 people, and we've had a lot of these jobs announcements recently. How's this one different?

Mecia: Than some of the big job announcements that we have had in the last few months have been really centered on technology and finance. Those tended to be high-paying jobs in uptown and South End. This is a little different in the sense that this is a company that runs call centers, so it's hiring, they say, about 1,000 people to work in a call center.

They're looking for a space in west Charlotte, apparently, and they pay about $14 an hour. So, I think, you know, job creation is always healthy for the city. You know, it keeps us growing, it keeps people moving here. It's certainly better than the alternative. This adds, I think, to the diversity of the kind of jobs that we have in Charlotte.

And if you look at the number of jobs that have been created in Charlotte over the last year, it's a pretty good number. It's about 30,000 or so jobs created in Charlotte in the last year, which is nearly half of the jobs created in North Carolina. So, when you look at Charlotte as an engine of growth, it's really revving up.