Negotiations over MLS deal set to begin, still questions over finances for other projects

Updated: Jan. 15, 2020 at 12:38 PM EST
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DURHAM, N.C. (WBTV) - There’s plenty of money in hospitality funds to afford the MLS project according to Charlotte city staff. Exactly how much room is left to borrow more money is still not being disclosed.

City council was presented with updated information on the hospitality funds during the third day of their annual retreat in Durham. While the outlook for the hospitality funds was positive, the lack of information left some city council members wanting more.

Read Charlotte’s Tourism Affordability Report

“From Tracy’s (Dodson) perspective it’s difficult for her to negotiate a deal when the other side knows how much money we have,” Charlotte CFO Kelly Flannery said.

“But it’s difficult for us if we don’t know how much money we have,” Councilman Ed Driggs responded.

The heart of the issue for Driggs and some other members of council is finding out how much money the city can borrow from its Convention Center and Tourism funds before entering negotiations with the Panthers and David Tepper over the MLS deal, a potential future stadium in Charlotte, new construction for Discovery Place and other projects yet to be determined.

Read Charlotte’s Significant Projects Presentation

Economic Director Tracy Dodson said negotiations with Tepper around the MLS deal are ongoing but that some aspects are moving forward. Dodson said the city will make a zoning petition in January for development of the Eastland Mall site where Tepper wants to place the MLS team’s practice facility.

“We’re in the early stages when it comes to the agreement and it’s not one agreement it’s going to be a series of agreements,” Dodson said.

The deal to bring MLS to Charlotte included a list of project priorities that council has pledged $110 million to:

  • Development of the city-owned Eastland Mall site into MLS practice and headquarters facilities to revitalize the area.
  • Development of an entertainment district surrounding Bank of America Stadium.
  • Renovations to Bank of America stadium to equip it to host regular MLS games.

But Dodson says that there’s also long term goals the city is working on with Tepper such as keeping his sports franchises in the Queen City.

“I need to know that Tepper’s not going to go to South Carolina,” Dodson said.

Dodson emphasized that the city is working to be a good partner with David Tepper in all these projects moving forward. She said there will be a lot of public discussion and involvement but that no dates have been set in stone.

Exactly how the $110 million pledged to the MLS deal will be spent is also still up for discussion.

“We don’t have all that detail yet,” Dodson said.

“We haven’t worked into that. What we know is that Mr. Tepper and the improvements and all of the work that’s going to be done far exceeds $110 million.”

CFO Kelly Flannery presented a power point presentation to council showing that, even with $100 million in new debt obligations for the convention center fund that the city would still have a healthy fund balance and the potential to borrow more money.

“I would say, in short, we can afford some stuff in the convention center fund,” Flannery said.

But Flannery withheld just how many more projects the city could afford from that fund. She said without a list of specific projects and dollar figures decided upon by council it wasn’t worth sharing.

“I think if we had a list of projects and we could model around them at this point we don’t have that,” Flannery said.

But the city does know there are other projects on the horizon. Dodson listed potential projects for Discovery Place, amateur sports, the Spectrum Center and others.

Using publicly available information from the CRVA and city records WBTV has previously reported that taking on a $110 million in debt from the convention center fund would leave little room for other projects.

Flannery rejected that notion but would not provide details on what would be left to borrow.

“Until we know what the projects are, the timing of those projects it’s just not something we could mathematically calculate,” Flannery said.

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