RALEIGH North Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would allow the city of Charlotte to use existing taxes but no new ones to upgrade Bank of America Stadium.
The plan apparently would leave the city more than $30 million short of what it hoped to give the Carolina Panthers.
At least one City Council member said the city might counter by offering a smaller tax increase than originally proposed.
Mayor Anthony Foxx and the City Council have asked lawmakers for authority to double Charlottes 1 percent prepared-food tax to help raise $144 million toward a $250 million stadium renovation. In return, the Panthers would agree to keep the team in Charlotte for 15 years.
The bottom line is theres no stomach here for a tax increase, said Republican Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte, the bills lead sponsor. Our hands are tied.
The House bill does not address the teams request for $62.5 million in state money. Samuelson said lawmakers believe that money could come from Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Commerce Department.
The measure would allow the city to use existing occupancy and prepared food taxes now earmarked for tourism and the Charlotte Convention Center to pay for stadium renovations and amateur sports.
The bill is co-sponsored by Charlotte Democrats Becky Carney and Beverly Earle and by Matthews Republican Bill Brawley.
Amateur sports have emerged as a priority for tourism officials, whose wish list includes new complexes for soccer, baseball and softball.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, a lead negotiator in the stadium talks, said current taxes wouldnt generate enough money for the Panthers, amateur sports and the convention center.
It would not be fiscally prudent nor maybe possible to fund all three needs out of existing revenue sources, Kimble said. But we will continue to work with our legislators. We are appreciative of them at least trying to find ways to keep the Panthers in Charlotte and in North Carolina.
Foxx could not be reached. A spokesman said the mayor was out of town and hadnt had time to review the bill Thursday.
But council member Michael Barnes, a Democrat, said the city could make a counterproposal.
Instead of a 1 percent increase in the food tax that would sunset in 30 years, he said, the city could offer a half-percent increase that would end in 15 years.
The question for us, Barnes said, is whether we want to counterpropose to assuage the concerns that people have had about the tax being too large and existing for too long. Im not sure we have the capacity within the existing convention center tax to do what we need to do for the convention center and do the upfits for (the) stadium.
Like the occupancy and rental-car taxes, the citys prepared-food tax is authorized by state law. Any increase needs state approval.
Convention center fund
The proposed Panthers upgrade would include escalators to the top levels and new video screens. A team official did not comment on the bills specifics.
We are appreciative of the initiatives of both the city and state as they work collaboratively to provide support for these needed improvements at Bank of America Stadium, team President Danny Morrison said in a statement.
The citys convention center fund is financed by a 3 percent occupancy tax and the 1 percent prepared-food tax. It has enough money to fund $110 million in new debt, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority reported in January.
The city and the CRVA have said that money should be reserved for the convention center, though neither has said how that money would be spent. In January, a CRVA representative called the 17-year-old convention center an aging facility that will need significant upgrades.
Raising the prepared food and beverage tax from 1 to 2 percent would raise roughly $1 billion over 30 years.
According to its original proposal, after paying the Panthers $144 million, the city would use the rest of the money for amateur sports facilities and any stadium renovations, or replacement, needed in the future.
Forcing city choices
Samuelson acknowledged that with less money, the city would have to make choices.
Were going to enable them to use the revenues they have for what they view as their top priorities, she said, rather than us deciding for them what their priorities should be.
Republican City Council member Warren Cooksey, the lone dissenter in the councils recent closed vote to pursue a tax increase, said council members who supported the effort have two choices.
Either go back to the drawing board with the Panthers to get their request down to $110 million or continue to look for additional revenues.
Said Barnes: If they are absolutely not going to allow there to be an increase (in the food tax), we are simply going to have to re-scale the Panther upfits and refit the amateur sports facilities. In other words, we wont be able to do as much.
Carney said the measure, combined with the proposed $62.5 million state contribution, should enable the Panthers to start their project.
The reason Im on this bill, she said, is because I was committed to getting the ball rolling to help the city help the Panthers. Staff writer Steve Harrison contributed.
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