From Mark Erwin, a Charlotte businessman and former U.S. ambassador:
The Carolina Panthers are a wonderful amenity for the Carolinas. Some friends and I leased a skybox when they were first offered and we still have it. I am a big fan, even when my beloved Panthers lose. I think the world of owner Jerry Richardson. He is a great man and showed incredible character when he developed the stadium with private funds. I for one do not want the Panthers to move, but then I also dont want to see Bank of America or any other of our corporate citizens leave Charlotte either.
It bothers me that so much of the discussion about paying for stadium renovations has taken place behind closed doors. That seems unnecessary and adds the perception of secret dealings with a private company. Our elected leaders have an obligation to let the sun shine on all of the facts for the benefit of the taxpayers.
If we the taxpayers fund the renovations to the stadium, two things will happen. First, the community uses one of its most valuable and limited resources, its taxing capacity. We cannot keep increasing taxes on citizens without consequences. The money proposed is huge when compared with the benefits. Just think of what else the same amount of taxing capacity could do for our commonly shared infrastructure like sidewalks, roads, schools, early learning programs and so on. We are being asked to pitch in because of the vague risk that sometime in the distant future another city might want to lure the Panthers away.
Second, we set a risky precedent of paying to keep a company here that uses a building 10 days per year for a fascinating spectacle. I can see the Bobcats licking their chops and then the Knights will want in on this sweet deal too. Just because other cities have acted foolishly by spending huge amounts of their taxpayers money for privately owned sports facilities does not mean we must follow suit.
If another large employer threatens to move unless we pay to renovate their headquarters, what do we say to them? After all, there are many other companies that employ far more people and add more value to our economy than the Panthers.
Instead of subsidizing this privately owned corporation and risking opening Pandoras Box, we could consider the following options:
• Buy stock in the Panthers with a preferred return for the city.
• Or the city could issue bonds to purchase the stadium and the Panthers could sign a 15-20 year lease with a continuous occupancy clause. We would then have a revenue source to recover our investment.
• We could ask the state to approve a tax on all events held at the stadium. At least this directs the cost to the facilitys users.
Jerrys comment that NFL franchises are so coveted they dont have to pay for them (stadiums) Thats the reality. may be partially right. But remember, he raised the money, built and owns this stadium. He created a new way of financing these special-purpose, seldom-used structures. Bravo for Jerry. Lets do it again.
The views expressed in For the Record are the writers, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
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