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Charlotte restaurant group backs tax increase for Panthers' stadium

The Charlotte chapter of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association has broken with the state organization and issued a letter Monday that supports a half-cent sales tax increase on food and beverages to help pay for stadium renovations for the Carolina Panthers.

In a letter to Mayor Anthony Foxx, Tom Sasser of Harper’s Restaurant Group and the chair of the Charlotte group, said he supports the city’s latest proposal of a half-cent sales tax that would end after 15 years.

The local tax – which would raise about $176 million – would be directed to the Panthers, who want to spend $300 million renovating 17-year-old Bank of America Stadium.

The state restaurant and lobbying association vehemently opposes an additional tax on restaurants and bars. In his letter, Sasser alluded to a split with the state group in Raleigh.

“This is a unique local issue,” Sasser wrote. “Though we have been told we cannot make a statement opposed to the state board’s opinion, we feel that in this case, at the risk of losing our chapter’s charter, we have to make this statement.”

The city initially proposed increasing the prepared food and beverage tax by a full penny, to 2 percent, for 30 years. That would have raised about $1 billion.

Sasser was lukewarm, at best, about that proposal, which would have raised the total sales tax on restaurant bills to 9.25 percent. But in his letter – and in past interviews – Sasser has said the Panthers are important to the city and that he could support a smaller meals tax. He said he supports the half-cent sales tax proposal.

“We are not alone in this support and join, as a unified team, with the Charlotte Chamber, the Charlotte Regional Visitor Authority, the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, Charlotte Center City Partners, and the Charlotte Area Hotel Association,” Sasser said.

The letter is part of the city’s push to convince the General Assembly to green light the tax increase. So far the GOP-controlled legislature has only said it would support a bill that would allow the city to use money from its Convention Center fund to pay for stadium renovations. That fund can be leveraged to raise $110 million, which would leave the city $34 million short in its commitment to the team.

The Panthers have asked the city for $144 million in exchange for a 15-year commitment to stay in Charlotte. The team has said it would spend $62.5 million on stadium renovations, and has asked the state for $62.5 million. State leaders have said they have no money for the team.

City Council member James Mitchell, who has been the city’s point person in negotiating with the Panthers, said last week he hopes the legislature will heed Sasser’s request. He has said that he would support using existing money to help the team if the General Assembly doesn’t approve the tax increase.

Mayor Anthony Foxx described the negotiations over the Panthers “like a ball going through a pinball machine.”

He said city staff will probably have to begin finding ways to support the Panthers’ request in the event the General Assembly doesn’t approve the tax hike.

In his letter, Sasser cited a University of South Carolina study about the team’s economic impact that was commissioned by the Panthers. The study said the team has an annual economic impact of $636 million.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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