Carolina Panthers rule out more public cash for stadium

The Carolina Panthers have finished their first round of renovations at Bank of America Stadium, largely paid for with tax dollars. But they’ve ruled out asking for more money, a team official said.

Fans will get their first look inside the newly renovated stadium Friday evening at this year’s Panthers Fan Fest.

When Charlotte City Council approved $87.5 million in public money for the team last year, they reached a deal that will keep the Panthers here for at least six years. That would keep the team in Charlotte through the 2018 season. Under the agreement, if the city decides to pay $50 million more, the Panthers could consider adding another four years to their agreement to stay put.

But Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton said Wednesday evening that the team doesn’t plan to go to Charlotte for more money.

“We have not asked for more money and do not intend to,” Dayton said.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said there’s no “secret plan” for more funding.

“There are no conversations going on right now,” he said.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, who helped spearhead negotiations with the team, said the $50 million possibility was put in the original plan to leave room for future negotiations.

“It is undefined. It was in the agreement as ‘if an opportunity arose,’ ” said Kimble. “Since the agreement was signed, we’ve had no further conversations, because the opportunities haven’t been coming up.”

The deadline for deciding whether to give the Panthers more money is Aug. 1, 2015, although officials said the team and the city could negotiate past then. The money could come from the city, state, county or any combination of public funds.

Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes, chairman of City Council’s economic development committee, said he’s skeptical that the city will give the Panthers more funds.

“Including that clause in the contract was simply a placeholder to keep the door open for future discussion,” Barnes said. “Our ability to fund additional improvements there is fairly limited. Unless we have some extraordinarily robust increase in the revenue sources we could use for that, we won’t have a lot to talk about.”

The Panthers money comes from the city’s Convention Center fund, which is supported by a 3 percent tax on hotel rooms and 1 percent tax on prepared food and beverages in Mecklenburg County. The fund is expected to have $11 million left after the Panthers receive their $87.5 million.

City Council members and officials made the original deal because they feared the Panthers could be lured away by Los Angeles or another city without an NFL franchise unless the team got public money to upgrade their Charlotte stadium. Bank of America Stadium opened in 1996.

Even if owner Jerry Richardson is committed to keeping the team in Charlotte, he’s 78, and his will calls for the team to be sold within two years of his death.

On the installment plan

The city’s 2013 deal with the Panthers gave the team $75 million for stadium renovation costs and $12.5 million for stadium maintenance and traffic control for the next 10 years.

But the money isn’t paid out all at once. The $12.5 million is set to be doled out over 10 years, with $1 million a year for maintenance and $250,000 for traffic control on game days. (Kimble said Charlotte will get the value of those expenses back with five free events a year at the stadium, valued at a total of $1.25 million annually.)

The $75 million is split into three payments. Charlotte has given the Panthers the first shot of public money, $28 million, which the team spent on the new escalators, lighted domes at the entrances, exterior lighting and paving bricks. The Panthers also spent $31 million of their own money on renovations this offseason, including adding the video and ribbon boards and a new sound system.

The next payments of city money, two installments of $23.5 million, are set to be paid in 2016 and 2018. The team plans to spend the money in upcoming offseasons for more renovations. Much of the upcoming changes would be focused on behind-the-scenes upgrades, such as improved cellphone networks, energy efficient systems and new heating and cooling systems.

Kimble said details for those projects haven’t been finalized yet, but that the city will review all plans with the Panthers as the payouts near.

If the Panthers try to relocate during the six-year “hard tether,” the city can get a court order to block them. If they try to leave during the next four years, the Panthers will have to pay the city damages starting at $37.5 million in year seven and declining by $12.5 million each year.

If the city were to arrange the additional $50 million in public funding, that could extend the “hard tether” by four years, for a total of 10 years. That would keep the team in Charlotte through the 2022 season. The “soft tether” period of four years, during which the team could leave but would have to pay damages, would be tacked on to the end of that.

If the city decides to pay an additional $50 million for four more years guaranteed in Charlotte, that would work out to $12.5 million per year, the same rate the city is currently paying the Panthers in renovation costs.

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