CHARLOTTE, NC (Katherine Peralta and Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - A new bill in the North Carolina legislature would give the Carolina Panthers a big tax break on the land the team leases from the city of Charlotte.
The measure comes about a month after hedge fund billionaire David Tepper agreed to buy the team for $2.275 billion. Tepper has not said what he plans to do with Bank of America Stadium — among the NFL's oldest. But local officials, including N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, have said they will work to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.
The Panthers lease 34 acres from the city for $1 a year. But the team still pays several hundred thousands dollars a year in property taxes on some of the value of that land, which includes the stadium and practice field — land that has a tax value of $27.6 million.
Matthews Republican Rep. Bill Brawley told fellow lawmakers the team is "paying significant property tax on property they do not own," NC Insider reported this week.
The Charlotte Knights, which lease land from the county for BB&T Ballpark, could also save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year under the new measure.
Senate Bill 561, which was previously a bill about expunging criminal convictions, was revised into a tax bill that would impact sports stadiums such as the Panthers stadium.
"We're saying this is tax-exempt property, leave them alone," Brawley said in a committee hearing Tuesday. Brawley didn't return messages seeking more information Wednesday.
The bill would exempt leaseholds for stadiums on land that are currently taxed as intangible real property. Intangibles are non-physical assets like stocks and bonds or, in this case, leaseholds. The state’s intangibles tax was repealed in 1994.
The Knights paid $171,156 last year on the value of the land they lease for BB&T Ballpark, valued at $12.5 million.
Tax records show the Panthers paid $357,166 in 2017 property taxes on the land they lease. Those taxes are separate from the $1.8 million in property taxes the team paid on the value of Bank of America Stadium, a building that the team owns. Panthers founder Jerry Richardson built the Panthers’ home field, which opened in 1996 as Ericsson Stadium, with financing from Permanent Seat License (PSL) deposits and a bank loan.
Elsewhere in the NFL, some teams pay even less. At the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Falcons are paying neither rent nor property taxes on the $1.6 billion facility that opened last year, according to newsreports.
A 2013 stadium renovation deal between the Panthers and the city includes some property tax relief for the Panthers, according to Ron Kimble, former deputy city manager, who consults with the city on economic development projects. Kimble said Wednesday he does not know anything about the latest push to lower the Panther's property taxes.
Senate Bill 561 isn't the first time this property tax break has come up. The Panthers have supported the exemption for years, and a similar bill was introduced last year that ultimately didn't pass.
Brawley offered the amendment that included the tax exemption in 2017. It is unclear if he offered the amendment in the current bill.
“I believe that treating taxpayers fairly is important,” he said at the time. “Even if it’s the Panthers they should be treated fairly. This is a fair tax treatment for an intangible piece of personal property."
Dana Fenton, the city of Charlotte's primary lobbyist and legislative liaison, said he didn't know details of the bill, and the city hasn't been pushing for it. A representative from the Panthers did not respond to a request for comment.
Tepper's deal to buy the Panthers is expected to close in early July. A representative for Tepper could not be reached for a comment.
If the measure becomes law, this wouldn't be the only tax break Tepper is getting for the team.
Thanks to a provision in the tax code that dates to 2004, Tepper can write off roughly $120 million a year of his purchase for the next 15 years, New York-based tax expert Bob Willens of Robert Willens LLC told the Observer recently.