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City’s goal: Millions to keep Carolina Panthers in Charlotte

The City Council’s main negotiator with the Carolina Panthers concedes that the N.C. General Assembly likely won’t grant Charlotte a tax increase to pay for renovations at Bank of America Stadium, but he’s still committed to finding $144 million for the team.

Democrat James Mitchell, who chairs the city’s economic development committee, said Saturday the city will try again this week to persuade the legislature to increase the local prepared food and beverage tax by a half-cent to help the Panthers.

But he said the city may have to use existing Convention Center funds, the only solution currently being proposed by the General Assembly to get money for the Panthers. Mitchell said the city will have to hunt for millions of dollars from different pots of money to help the team.

Mitchell said the city won’t attempt to cover the $62.5 million requested from the state.

“We won’t go higher than $144 million,” Mitchell said of the city’s role.

It’s unclear how the Panthers would respond if the city gives the team $144 million but the state doesn’t offer any money. Team president Danny Morrison declined to comment to the Observer.

State Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican who is the main sponsor of a bill to allow the city to use Convention Center money for the stadium, said Thursday there is a “natural sense of urgency” to helping the Panthers.

Samuelson made the comment a day after meeting with Morrison. She hasn’t changed her position on not allowing a tax increase for the team, however.

Legislators are currently considering a bill – under review in the House – that would allow the city to use existing money from its Convention Center fund to help the team. That Convention Center fund could raise $110 million, which could be given to the team. That would leave the city short at least $34 million.

City staffers have not detailed how they might find that money.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said the city considered a number of ways to help the Panthers but ultimately decided that the prepared food and beverage increase was the best way to help the team. He declined to discuss a secondary alternative.

Other possible options

An Observer review of the city’s plans to pay for a streetcar project – as well as past economic incentive deals – offer some possibilities the city could pursue.

• Perhaps the simplest method would be to raise the property tax rate.

Renovations to Bank of America Stadium could conceivably be added to the $926 million Capital Improvement Program, which is being debated by the City Council after being rejected in June. That plan would require an 8 percent property tax increase.

That would be politically treacherous for council members and Mayor Anthony Foxx, who are up for re-election in November.

Paying for a streetcar with property taxes has been controversial. Using property taxes for stadium renovations could be a tougher sell politically.

“We don’t want the CIP to compete with the Panthers,” Mitchell said. “The CIP is for basic infrastructure like sidewalks.”

The city has complained that by using all of the Convention Center fund for the Panthers, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority would have no money left to upgrade or expand the Convention Center. The City Council, however, could choose to include Convention Center renovations as part of the current capital plan.

•  Some options that have come up during the streetcar debate could be used. One idea was to increase the Business Privilege License tax on the operators of parking lots. One study showed that a $25 tax on each parking space in uptown garages and surface lots could raise $1.78 million a year.

• To help fund an uptown baseball stadium for the Charlotte Knights, Center City Partners, an uptown think tank and booster group, agreed to pay the team $725,000. The City Council could raise the special property tax inside Interstate 277 that’s dedicated to Center City Partners – and then dedicate that money to the Panthers.

• A common city incentive is to give a company or business a portion of new property taxes created during an expansion.

If the Panthers spent nearly $300 million improving their stadium, the tax value of Bank of America Stadium would likely increase. If the stadium’s tax value increased by $30 million, the team would pay an additional $370,000 in city and county property taxes annually.

Some of that money could be refunded back to the team. The current tax value of the stadium is $135 million.

Kimble has previously said the city hasn’t considered a plan to refund some of its property taxes.

• The NASCAR Hall of Fame is funded by a 2 percent hotel/motel tax. That money can be used only to pay for the hall’s capital costs, including construction debt and improvements and maintenance to the building.

That money can’t be used to pay for the hall’s operating losses, which were $1.4 million in its first year and at least $1 million in its second year.

The CRVA pays for the hall’s losses from its other hospitality taxes.

If the General Assembly were to change the legislation to allow the NASCAR Hall of Fame tax to pay for the hall’s operating losses, that could free up money to be used for the Panthers.

Kimble, however, said the NASCAR Hall of Fame fund doesn’t have any debt capacity.

Staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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