Panthers terminate agreement with Rock Hill for new SC headquarters

·6 min read

The Carolina Panthers are terminating their contract with the city of Rock Hill over the construction of the NFL team’s new headquarters.

“We have sent notices to the City to formally terminate the previous agreements,” a spokesperson for GT Real Estate Holdings, which represents Tepper Sports & Entertainment in the deal, said Tuesday. “Accordingly, we are prepared to sit down with the City and other interested parties to discuss the significant challenges ahead.”

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 city insisted it had.

“I’m disappointed in the outcome, the economic development of what the Panthers would be bringing to York County would be a game changer for not just our community but the region,” said House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, a Rock Hill Republican who championed legislation through the State House in 2019 to give tax breaks to lure the Panthers to York County.

“The fact remains that that piece of property, with an interchange and what York County has already and the city of Rock Hill, our area, with destination tourism, sports destination tourism, that continues,” Simrill added.

GT Real Estate Holdings last month issued a 30-day notice of default to Rock Hill. It expired Sunday.

“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 Tuesday. “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.

“On March 18, 2022, GTRE issued a default notice and the City did not cure its default within the prescribed 30-day cure period. It is unfortunate that some recently decided to conduct a misguided, destructive public relations campaign to obscure their failures.

State Sen. Wes Climer, R-York, said it will “take some time to sort through what the Panthers position is given the ambiguity in their statement.”

“It’s frustrating that time and again the Panthers organization won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Climer said.

York County presented an alternative financial package to salvage the project.

Under the county’s resolution, the Panthers would have received incentives for four decades in exchange for completing $225 million of public infrastructure at the site. A requirement of the county’s proposed plan was that the team, city and county release each other from prior financial contracts to allow for a new one.

York County Council Chairwoman Christi Cox responded to the news Tuesday morning, via email, saying the county is disappointed to learn the team decided to terminate its agreement for completion of the Rock Hill headquarters.

“The county has not received any termination notice and has not been copied on any termination notice purportedly sent to the City of Rock Hill,” Cox wrote a little after noon Tuesday. “The county has performed all of its obligations in good faith and will take all necessary measures to protect the taxpayers and continues to remain open to productive dialogue in that respect.”

The $225 million in bonds was part of the agreement with Rock Hill.

City Manager David Vehaun said at a March city council meeting that the Panthers slowed Rock Hill’s ability to issue the bonds. He said before Rock Hill could issue the bonds, the city needed specific details from the Panthers, such as development and financial plans, to provide to potential investors.

But the team was not submitting enough details, Vehaun said.

Vehaun said Rock Hill was prepared to issue the bonds in early 2022, but the Panthers asked the city to stop.

Rock Hill said in a statement Tuesday that the city is disappointed in the Panther’s decision, but city officials are encouraged that the team “may now be willing to meet and look forward to resolving any and all outstanding issues.” The city, again, said it met all obligations required under the agreement.

“From our standpoint, we are prepared to meet as early as today,” the statement said. “Accordingly, this will be the last public statement from the city regarding the most recent misleading and erroneous statements from the Panthers.”

In a statement, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster called the announcement a “disappointment, as we had hoped they would be a part of South Carolina’s record breaking, booming economy.”

‘A shame that David Tepper has decided to walk away’

To lure the Panthers to South Carolina, lawmakers passed legislation that promised $115 million in tax breaks to the team, which planned to bring 150 employees to Rock Hill from Charlotte.

However, those incentives would only be awarded to the team if the project was completed by the end of 2024 and the jobs came.

Simrill told The State Tuesday that he has no regrets, but added he wished the communication between all parties had stayed the same to what it was before the project launched.

“The facts are that the legislation that was passed (in 2019) allows a professional sports team to enjoy the same benefits that a large corporation would,” Simrill said. “The fact that the legislation passed opens the door for South Carolina for professional sports teams. Obviously, it’s not going to be the Carolina Panthers.”

Simrill continued, “In politics, in government, you do your level best to create the atmosphere that fosters good economic development, and, as I look at this piece of legislation passed in Columbia, we did just that as a General Assembly and the state lived up to every aspect through the process of bringing the Carolina Panthers to York County.”

Separately, the state started work on a $40 million Interstate 77 interchange project to serve the practice facility. State officials plan to complete the project because it still can serve economic development in the area.

So far, $16.4 million worth of work has been awarded.

Team plans for the site included a more than 620,000-square-foot headquarters facility and 113,000-square-foot outdoor multipurpose stadium with 5,000 seats. The indoor practice site, with 500 seats, was envisioned with capabilities to host community events in addition to team functions.

What will happen to the property moving forward is unclear.

“I think it’s a disappointment that the Panthers have chosen to reject good offer after good offer,” state Sen. Michael Johnson, R-York, who was chairman of York County Council when the county approved its own incentives in 2020, told The State Tuesday. “To me, this is like a petulant child who can’t get out of his own way and we need adults to walk into the room and make good decisions. When you can’t trust your partners, it becomes difficult to negotiate. I think the county has done everything the right way, and it is a shame that David Tepper has decided to walk away and to paint the NFL in such a negative light.”

The Panthers made two assistant coaches available to the media Tuesday afternoon and both declined to comment on the team’s headquarters.

The State’s senior editor of the State House and politics team Maayan Schechter and reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this report.