Panthers bidder visits Wells Fargo tournament, says team belongs in Charlotte

Panthers bidder visits Wells Fargo tournament, says team belongs in Charlotte
Panthers bidder Alan Kestenbaum (center) was in Charlotte Thursday for the Wells Fargo Championship. (Rick Rothacker | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Rick Rothacker/The Charlotte Observer) - Alan Kestenbaum, one of the bidders vying to buy the Carolina Panthers, was in Charlotte Thursday for the Wells Fargo Championship, the latest sign that he remains in pursuit of the NFL team put up for sale by owner Jerry Richardson.

In an interview at Quail Hollow Club, Kestenbaum said he could not talk about the bidding process. But he said he was in Charlotte to meet members of the local business community and "people connected to the Panthers."

"I like Charlotte," Kestenbaum, the CEO of a Canadian steel company, said in his first public remarks since his name emerged as a bidder. "I've met a lot of people here that are in the business community, a lot of people connected to the Panthers. People make me feel at home here."

Richardson announced plans to sell the team in December on the same day Sports Illustrated reported on allegations of workplace misconduct by Richardson. In addition to Kestenbaum, the Observer has identified three other bidders: hedge fund manager David Tepper, e-commerce entrepreneur Michael Rubin and financial services CEO Ben Navarro.

Bloomberg News has reported that Rubin dropped out when bids reached $2.5 billion, but sources close to the process have told the Observer he remains interested at the right price.

Some owners had initially indicated that a sale could be approved at the May 21-23 NFL owners meeting in Atlanta, but sources last week told the Observer the process could take longer. All the bidders are bound by confidentiality agreements.

Kestenbaum said Thursday the visit to the Wells Fargo Championship was his fourth to Charlotte in the past two and a half months. He has been to the city before that for steel-related business.

Although he would not talk about his bid, he did emphasize the importance of the team staying in its hometown.

"The Panthers belong in Charlotte," said Kestenbaum, who lives in Florida. "They were born here. The fans are here."

He added that the team's fan base could grow even more through the use of social media and other means.

On his visit, Kestenbaum met with Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates, who had looked to put together his own investor group early in the process, and Panthers minority partner Cameron Harris.

Kestenbaum said he would remain in Charlotte until Friday and called Quail Hollow a "beautiful place."

"It's a phenomenal event," he said of the golf tournament. "It's a great place to socialize and learn about the community."