For the first time in nearly 16 months, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper addressed the public Wednesday through the media. And among the hottest topics was what happened with the team’s headquarters in Rock Hill.
However, he declined to say much about it.
“We released a statement already, and we will respect the City of Rock Hill’s request not to have a back-and-forth about it,” Tepper said.
Last month, Tepper Sports & Entertainment, which represents the Charlotte-based NFL team, stopped construction on the 240-acre property because of a disagreement between the city and the company. Tepper Sports said in a statement in March that Rock Hill has been “unable to contribute (to) the agreed upon investment to fund the construction” of the project.
The Panthers terminated their contract with the City of Rock Hill on April 18.
TSE’s statement said that it was terminating the agreement with the city, and that it was “prepared to sit down with the City and other interested parties to discuss the significant challenges ahead.”
Tepper reiterated Wednesday that he would try to continue talking with city officials.
When asked by The Charlotte Observer what’s next for the Panthers’ headquarters and whether Charlotte makes sense, Tepper said: “Everything makes sense if we can find the right situation.”
Tepper did suggest that he was committed to keeping the Panthers in Charlotte and that he likes the stadium’s location.
“It is the center of two states, we are the Carolina Panthers, and the most logical place for the Carolina Panthers to be is in Charlotte,” he said.
Tepper was also asked about his message to residents of Rock Hill who were disappointed in his decision to move on from the city. Tepper said that the Panthers will keep a presence in South Carolina with training camp and charity events.
“We will be there. We will continue to support the community,” he said, before letting out a laugh. “I’m just laughing about some people in the community what they say about me. But no matter what they say about me, we will be there for the people of Rock Hill, supporting the community in different fashions.”
Panthers-Rock Hill bond dispute
Since construction stopped, Rock Hill has maintained that it met all obligations required under the agreement.
According to the financial and construction administration agreement between Rock Hill and GT Real Estate Holdings, which represent Tepper Sports & Entertainment in the deal, the city was expected to use its “reasonable best efforts” to issue the $225 million in bonds by Feb. 26, 2021.
The agreement states that the city’s “reasonable best efforts” would not require Rock Hill to “pledge, use or contribute any funds, revenues or assets” to repay the bonds.
City Manager David Vehaun said at a March City Council meeting that despite several requests by the Panthers, the city insisted it would not “backstop” — or guarantee — the debt.
And the agreement outlines just that.
The agreement states the city’s “reasonable best efforts” to issue the bonds should not be construed as “an assurance or guarantee by the city that there will be a buyer for any of the bonds.”
However, the agreement also states that the city’s failure to use its “reasonable best efforts” to issue the bonds by Feb. 26, 2021, would result in a default.
On March 18, GT Real Estate Holdings issued a 30-day notice of default to Rock Hill. On Wednesday, Tepper repeated on at least five occasions that he’d respect the city’s request not to comment on what happened, and referred to their statement.
“On February 26, 2021, the City of Rock Hill became delinquent on their obligation to fund the public infrastructure,” a GT Real Estate Holdings spokesperson said earlier this month. “Despite our persistent efforts throughout 2021, the City of Rock Hill failed to issue the bonds or provide the funding for the public infrastructure for the project.”
Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said at the same March City Council meeting that Rock Hill put forth its best effort “to bring the bonds to market short of risking the credit to the city.”
“Any implication by the Panthers that the city did not do its absolute and professional best is simply not true,” Gettys said.
York County, Rock Hill agreement with Panthers
In April 2020, the Panthers and York County signed off on a tax incentive deal for the Panthers project. Part of that deal, an interlocal agreement between the city and county, outlined key features of the plan, including an itemized list of the $225 million in planned public infrastructure at the heart of the default issue.
It had $117 million in project-specific costs, plus about $20 million each for off-site road improvements to serve the site and undetermined transportation needs. A Manchester Park road connection was listed at $10 million. The list had more than $18 million in contingency funding.
The interlocal agreement allows the city to issue bonds related to the project. The agreement states bonds are only to be secured by payments from tax revenue generated by the site each year — including the full city portion from the site — and not by “a pledge of the full faith, credit or taxing power of either the county or the city.”
The agreement also lays out rules for default. It requires 30 days written notice if one party doesn’t meet the terms of the contract, after which the party that provided the notice can file suit against the defaulting partner to hold up its end of the agreement.
The interlocal agreement also allows the Panthers to terminate the agreement with 30 days written notice to the county, but financial obligations due at the time would remain. If the team were to make that move, the tax incentive deal would be gone and the site property owner would begin paying standard tax rates the following fiscal year.