Council members reach consensus on funding for future Charlotte MLS franchise stadium

Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 11:39 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte City Council members have reached a general consensus to provide public funding to renovate Bank of America stadium to equip it for an MLS team. But sources tell WBTV it is not a done deal and there are still significant aspects that need to be finalized.

Additionally, council has not voted publicly on the financing yet and sources tell WBTV there is not a set date yet for when that will happen, even though MLS plans to announce Charlotte as the newest franchise on December 17th.

On November 21, Mayor Vi Lyles sent a letter to Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber welcoming MLS to the Queen City. She said the city was working with Tepper sports and their “plans together include”... “Modifications to Bank of America Stadium to support MLS and provide a world-class fan experience” and “$110 million in hospitality funds set aside to help ensure a successful venture over the next many years.”

But sources tell WBTV that the $110 million mentioned in the letter is not a commitment and that details still need to be ironed out.

The consensus came in closed session meetings that happened starting on September 23rd. Three new council members have joined city council since their lost closed session meeting on MLS funding for Bank of America Stadium but WBTV understands they have been approached individually on the topic since they were sworn in.

Funding for major stadium projects comes from the Convention Center Tax Fund. WBTV has reported that Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones has not provided Charlotte City Council with the requested list of capital projects related to that fund and other special revenue funds that would help show how much capacity is in the fund to take on new debt.

The news comes less than one week after sources confirmed to WBTV that MLS officials will announce Charlotte as the newest franchise on December 17th. The City of Charlotte released a permit showing that the street in front of Mint Museum will be closed on the 17th.

During a Major League Soccer Board of Governors meeting Thursday in Brooklyn, expansion and the City of Charlotte were among the topics that were discussed.

Previously, an MLS spokesperson said no timeline had been finalized on an announcement about which city/proposal will be granted a franchise.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber previously told reporters that Charlotte had moved its way to the front of the line with its bid for an MLS team. After Thursday’s Brooklyn meeting, Garber spoke more about the future of MLS in the city of Charlotte.

“We reviewed several expansion markets today, and the group from Charlotte, including David Tepper and Tom Glick, met with the board and made a very impressive presentation. It’s the first time presentation. It’s the first time David Tepper has met the full MLS board, he has met with the MLS expansion committee over the past year or so,” Garber said. “We are in very very advanced discussions with David and his group.”

Although no formal approval was granted Thursday, Garber said that the MLS Board authorized the MLS Expansion Committee to enter into what he expects to be final negotiations with David Tepper to have Charlotte be the league’s 30th team.

The existing issues with the MLS move to Charlotte have to do with the stadium where the potential team would play, according to Garber.

“The remaining issues with Charlotte are related to their stadium, and ensuring that we’re going to be able to put together a dynamic in that stadium that will be up to the standards of all of our current soccer stadiums and certainly up to the standards of the great environments that we have in our two NFL stadiums when we play in Seattle and in Atlanta,” Garber said.

WBTV has previously reported that city council has been presented with options to renovate Bank of America Stadium into a soccer specific stadium for a future MLS team. The proposal from Carolina Panther’s owner David Tepper’s team would require council to authorize $100 million or more in tourism tax funds.

Sources told WBTV that council wouldn’t vote on the renovation package at Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony but plan to in the very near future. Other sources have told WBTV that council would not vote on the proposal until it is confirmed that the MLS is awarding the bid to Charlotte.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted a statement about Thursday’s news, stating that city officials nor staff were attending the meetings and that decisions made at the meeting would be premature.

On Thursday, Garber spoke about why Charlotte is an attractive market for MLS.

“We are very, very bullish about the Charlotte market. We believe it’s a growing city on the rise, and one that’s just got so much opportunity for us to be able to continue to expand our league,” Garber said. “We’ve got issues that need to get resolved as it relates to the stadium. We’ve got confidence in David Tepper and his management group, and confidence in the city leaders that they’ll continue to want to support the efforts to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte.”

Garber also spoke more about the stadium situation for Charlotte’s expansion bid.

“It really is related to how to ensure that the stadium is up to the MLS standards, that it satisfies our stadium guidelines. There’s a wide variety of things that they’ve already worked on that need to be finalized,” Garber said. “Ensuring that the supporter section is proper, ensuring that they have the proper tunnels, that they have the right environments for locker rooms, the competitive environments and to ensure that they’re able to manage how they would size the stadium, which has not been finalized yet. In the event that they don’t end up with 70,000 fans a game, if they end up with fewer than that, how would we manage that.”

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