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City officials hope House bill will persuade Panthers to stay

RALEIGH After watching the N.C. House pass a bill that would help the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte officials said Wednesday they’re confident the measure will persuade the team to stay in Charlotte.

By a voice vote, the House passed a bill that would allow the city to use taxes, now earmarked for the Charlotte Convention Center, toward renovating Bank of America Stadium. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Those taxes would generate around $110 million – short of the city’s original $144 million deal with the Panthers. The deal, which also anticipated $62 million from the state, would have come with a so-called “tether” tying the team to Charlotte for 15 years.

“The tether will still be in play,” council member James Mitchell said outside the House gallery. He said he hopes the Panthers will commit to staying for 10 years.

In a statement, Panthers’ President Danny Morrison did not address a possible tether.

“We appreciate the support of the House,” he said. “This positive step enables the process to continue.”

The bill represents a compromise. The city had asked the state for authority to double the local prepared food and beverage tax. Instead, the bill allows the city to use the existing occupancy tax.

“There’s no new tax,” Republican Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte told the House. “There’s no new revenue. There’s just new options.”

A day after prompting an hourlong debate in committee, the financing bill passed the House with one critic taking the floor. Democratic Rep. Paul Luebke of Durham called it “corporate welfare … for a very profitable outfit.”

Charlotte City Council members who watched the vote said they were realistic about what they could get from a tax-averse General Assembly.

“At the end of the day, this passage means we’re closer and closer to providing the upgrades to the Panthers’ stadium,” said Mitchell, a Democrat. “It’s the political climate here in Raleigh. Taxes were DOA. … We heard that loud and clear.”

Republican councilman Andy Dulin said the bill “wasn’t everything we wanted, but it’s a good step forward.”

“It should give the Panthers some comfort and some insight into how hard the City Council is working to help.… The tether issue is still key.”

Mitchell, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said he’d like to get a “hard” tether of eight years and a “soft” tether of two.

That could be similar to an agreement the Buffalo Bills worked out recently with local government for $94 million in public money.

According to Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann, the “hard” part of the Buffalo tether would bring a court fight if the team left in seven years. The “soft” part would force the team to pay a $28 million penalty if it left before 10 years.

The Panthers have planned a nearly $300 million renovation of 17-year-old Bank of America Stadium. The upgrade would include escalators to the upper levels and new video screens.

The House bill could force the city to make choices. Using the available $110 million for the stadium could leave little for the convention center or the amateur sports facilities sought by local tourism officials.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said there’s no state money available for the stadium.

Morrill: 704-358-5059
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