MLS announcement doesn’t come with details of taxpayer dollars for soccer project

Updated: Dec. 17, 2019 at 7:06 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Even after the official announcement awarding Charlotte with Major League Soccer’s 30th team, details about how taxpayer money will be used to move the project forward remain sparse. Mayor Vi Lyles said that there will be a public process determining how the money will be spent.

Mayor Lyles and other city leaders on the MLS project lauded plans to build the MLS team headquarters at the old Eastland Mall location and develop an entertainment district in Center City. The city also plans to help fund the renovation of Bank of America Stadium to make it soccer specific.

“That money will be spent after we have a development plan process,” Lyles told WBTV.

But in a letter to MLS Commissioner Don Garber sent in November, Lyles wrote that the city planned to commit $110 million in hospitality funds for the project. During an interview with WBTV she reiterated that council has not officially approved those funds.

“We have not spent that money, there has been no appropriation,” Lyles said.

But Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber still has expectations based on the letter. Garber went as far as to say the deal would not have gone through if not for the letter.

“The city made major commitments,” Garber said. “In life you need to sort of have those things written in stone. I’m counting on her and the city council to deliver on that."

Panthers owner David Tepper is also counting on the City. Commissioner Garber told WBTV that the bid likely wouldn’t have been awarded without commitments to not only renovating Bank of America Stadium, but building a brand-new stadium in the future.

“If we thought we had been in Bank of America Stadium forever we wouldn’t have made the decision,” Garber said.

Tepper mentioned that Bank of America Stadium was built with an expected 25-year life span and although the stadium could last well beyond that, he has bigger plans. He’d like a new venue in the model of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, which can accommodate both football and soccer games and host large events.

Tepper even spoke about the possibility of hosting a Final Four in Charlotte in a new stadium.

“If you’re going to do a new stadium, you’re going to want to do it pretty much near the same spot because it is such a great spot for sports in Charlotte,” Tepper said.

When asked if he would consider possibly signing a “tether” agreement to keep the Panthers and the MLS team in Charlotte, Tepper focused on how important the partnership is with City of Charlotte officials and elected leaders.

“This is a partnership, everything we do here is a partnership with the city,” Tepper said. “What do you want to do? What does Charlotte want to do? You know what I mean? I’m not going to force anything, this is a partnership. I keep saying that word again and again because I believe it. And at this point in my life I don’t need to do anything, there’s like greater goals I have.”

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