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Carolina Panthers stadium talks to re-start after Senate vote

RALEIGH Negotiations between the Carolina Panthers and the city of Charlotte over stadium upgrades are expected to reopen Monday after passage of a stadium financing bill by the N.C. General Assembly.

The negotiations also would deal with a so-called tether, or agreement to keep the team in Charlotte.

“This is huge for the city,” City Council member James Mitchell, the council’s lead negotiator, told reporters after Thursday’s Senate vote.

By a vote of 45-0, the Senate approved a bill that allows the city to use occupancy taxes now earmarked for the Charlotte Convention Center for upgrades to Bank of America Stadium. The bill, which already passed the House, now becomes law.

The measure falls short of what the Panthers – and the city – originally wanted. Lawmakers rejected the city’s first proposal, which would have given the team $144 million by raising the local prepared-food tax.

State officials also have rejected the team’s request for $62.5 million toward a planned stadium upgrade costing nearly $300 million.

City officials say the existing occupancy tax could generate $110 million for the stadium, the Convention Center and amateur sports. Mitchell estimated Thursday that about 80 percent of that, or $88 million, might be available for the stadium.

“Now it’s time for us to re-engage with the Panthers and talk about a lower-cost upgrade to the stadium,” Mitchell said.

In a statement, Panthers’ President Danny Morrison said only, “We are pleased that the bill has passed both the House and Senate and look forward to the next step of the process with the city.”

Mayor Anthony Foxx said he’s pleased lawmakers did “what they felt they could to keep the Panthers franchise in North Carolina.”

“We now have to work with the City Council and the Panthers … to see what can be done.”

Mitchell said negotiations would deal with tethering the team to Charlotte. That’s important because team owner Jerry Richardson, who’s 76, has said that the team would be sold two years after his death.

The city’s original agreement with the team called for a 15-year tether.

“It won’t be 15, 15’s off the table,” Mitchell said. But, he added, “The tether is important to us, it’s important to the Panthers. I just know they want to stay in Charlotte.”

The bill passed Thursday would give the Panthers less than half of what they originally sought in public help for stadium improvements.

It’s unclear whether the Panthers will seek a loan from the NFL as part of the project.

Reports this week said the Miami Dolphins might get a $150 million NFL loan for improvements to Miami Dolphins’ Stadium. The Miami-Dade Commission on Wednesday approved asking voters to raise hotel taxes for renovations, a $289 million payout. Voters could vote as early as May 14, considering a plan released in detail late Tuesday. The urgency is driven by the contest between Miami Gardens and Santa Clara, Calif., for Super Bowl 50, which the NFL will award no later than May 22.

Asked whether the Panthers would seek NFL help, Morrison said: “It’s premature. Any NFL financing is contingent on public participation.” NFL loans have to be approved by 24 of the 32 team owners.

Last month, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the Panthers’ original request – for $144 million from the city and $62.5 million from the state – was on the “low end” of public support.

“Bank of America Stadium was unique in being almost completely privately financed,” he said. “What the Panthers are proposing now combined with the investment they have made privately in the stadium is on the low end of public investment in recent stadium projects.”

There has been a wave of NFL stadium improvements, most financed in part with public money.

“Because more clubs own or control their stadiums … there needs to be a constant level of investment in stadiums to remain competitive,” Aiello said. “Where that has not happened is where we have the most difficult and unstable situations.”

Staff writers Steve Harrison, Joe Person, and the Miami Herald contributed.

Morrill: 704-302-6359
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