Panthers seeking public money for stadium renovations - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Panthers seeking public money for stadium renovations, upgrades

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

The Carolina Panthers are on a campaign to win support from state lawmakers to give public money to help renovate Bank of America Stadium.

Wednesday morning, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and other members of the organization went to Raleigh to meet with the Mecklenburg County delegation.

The Panthers are asking the state to pitch in $62 million dollars to help pay for upgrades. Some lawmakers are reluctant to use public dollars to help a private business.

"Yes I want to keep the Panthers. I love the Panthers" says Senator Jeff Tarte. "Are we going to just carte blanche give them state dollars - probably not. There's hopefully something in the middle."

Other lawmakers say the team is an asset only to the Charlotte region. They believe any issues with B of A Stadium should be a regional problem, and that the rest of the state should not be burdened.

Richardson says the Panthers are committed to paying their share for stadium improvements. When asked why public money should help a financially successful NFL team, Richardson responded "they're so coveted. They don't have to pay for them. There are only 32 teams."

Charlotte city leaders say that the reason why they're willing to invest millions of dollars into the city's professional football stadium for upgrades and renovations. The proposal would keep the team tied to Charlotte for more than a decade.

On Friday, Richardson met with council members in a closed session to discuss public funding options for requested improvements to Bank of America Stadium.

The city agreed to invest $143.75 million into Bank of America Stadium over the next 15 years, according to a press release from the city of Charlotte.

The Carolina Panthers will contribute $96.25 million over the same time frame as the city.

The organization has asked the state for $62.5 million.

The bill totals $297 million and includes $28 million for escalators and elevators at all three entrances.

The plan calls for $59 million for new video boards, ribbon boards and a sound system. $62 million will be spent to upgrade stadium infrastructure including HVAC units, playing fields and concrete coatings.

Danny Morrison, President of the Carolina Panthers says since the stadium opened in 1996, there have been "25 other NFL stadiums that are either new stadiums or had been major renovated stadiums." Morrison says "it's really time in the cycle after 16 or 17 years where the stadium needs a major upgrade."

So why is the team asking taxpayers to chip in?

"We're one of the most privately funded stadiums in all of the NFL, and if you look at partnerships across the NFL - public private partnerships are prevalent."

Morrison says the team has been good for the area.

"The Panthers have been a proven investment if you look at the economic study that has been done. The annual impact of $636 million a year to this area," said Carolina Panthers President Danny Morrison. "The proven investment of the Panthers speaks for itself."

Morrison says "we've had very good meeting, very tense and actually tough negotiations with the city as we went through this process."

With Charlotte city leaders on board, Morrison says "the next step is to move forward with the state." According to the Panthers president, team officials have had preliminary conversations with state lawmakers "so we just need to keep conversations going with them."

The Panthers have roots in South Carolina, where the teams holds training camp. A spokesperson for the organization say Panthers owner Jerry Richardson did not request financial help from South Carolina.

"The training camp is located in South Carolina, but the stadium is in North Carolina so the request was made in North Carolina", says Charlie Dayton of the Panthers.

The city of Charlotte plans to pay for its share of the upgrades by a proposed increase of one-percent to the Charlotte's prepared food and beverage tax. The General Assembly has to approve the tax hike.

Members of the Mecklenburg County delegation say they have questions about the proposed tax hike. The increase would generate more money than what the city has agreed to contribute. Council members say the extra revenue would go towards amateur sports in the city -which they say is becoming a major economic asset.

The Mayor says the most important part of the stadium upgrades proposal is the commitment the Panthers will have to the Queen City.

"If we had not made this decision, at some point in the future the team would've been sold and moved away..we would've felt that loss, economically. We would feel it from the standpoint of the psychology this community has enjoyed over the years," Mayor Foxx said.

Talks on Friday were only one step in the process. The mayor points out this is not a done deal and the public will have a chance to weigh on. "The city is requesting help from the General Assembly. We had some positive conversations with the governor and state house and state senate. The ball is now in the General Assembly's hands…and if they in fact approve the revenue stream from the city and the money to help us from the state perspective, we would then have an agreement that would have to be approved by the city council," Foxx said.

The first day of the retreat started out with talks about the Charlotte's economic health, and videos about major projects in each district.

The afternoon discussion deteriorated with heated exchanges among city council members who say "there is a lack of trust" on the council.

Members say a divide developed on the council when discussions started last year about the street car. Some council members believe colleagues let the talks pit neighborhood against neighborhood.

Earlier in the day council members were asked to think about whether they want "Charlotte to be a top tier city or a second tier city?"

"What we have to be about is thinking not just about next year or two years from now" says Mayor Anthony Foxx, "we have to think 20 years from now. Where is Charlotte going to be? Where do we want it to be and how do we back our way into thinking how we get there?"

The $119 million street car project dominated a significant part of the day's talks.

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta addressed the group and told them "Atlanta is where it is because people made tough decisions." He says he came to share lessons with Charlotte "as you all go through some of the issues that look and feel a lot alike."

Mayor Reed says "you are dealing with some issues around street car and we are building a $100 million street car in Atlanta. You are dealing with issues around stadium facility and we're working through some of those issues right now."

According to Mayor Reed, the Atlanta Falcons have asked for help building a new stadium. In a deal that is still being worked out, the Mayor says the Falcons will pay $860 million. The city of Atlanta will kick in $200 million through hotel and motel tax. If an agreement is reached, the deal will keep the Falcons in Atlanta for 30 years.

Mayor Reed says "no mayor or city council have played the stadium game and won." He says a city without an NFL team will likely languish.

Mayor Foxx says he's concerned about "poachers". He says there are cities that are building stadiums but don't have NFL teams.

In other reports delivered during the retreat, Council members and the Mayor heard that fiscal year 2013's budget is doing "okay". Revenues are projected at $0.4 million above budget and expenditures at $2.9 million below budget.

In June a 2-year budget cycle will be adopted. For fiscal year 2014, a report says sales tax revenue will likely see a 3.5% growth. And property tax should have 1% growth. City officials say there is some uncertainty because of the county's revaluation problems. According to the city's finance department, about $10 billion worth of property is still under review - that's an estimated $100 million the city is missing because of Mecklenburg County's troubled revaluation.

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