Panthers tailgaters losing their spots to development

Charlotte’s uptown development boom means Carolina Panthers fans are losing the biggest and most prominent tailgating spot in front of Bank of America Stadium.
Charlotte’s uptown development boom means Carolina Panthers fans are losing the biggest and most prominent tailgating spot in front of Bank of America Stadium.

Thanks to Charlotte’s uptown development boom, Carolina Panthers fans are losing the biggest and most prominent tailgating spot in front of Bank of America Stadium.

As demolition crews rip out the parking lots off Church and Poplar streets on the old Charlotte Observer site, they’ve taken away prime pre-game real estate from fans who would flip burgers, chug beer and toss footballs steps away from Bank of America Stadium.

The project means there are nearly 500 fewer parking spots at which to tailgate before games this season, according to Ben Sands, general manager at Preferred Parking, which was responsible for leasing out the spots.

Uptown development has been gradually shrinking the overall parking footprint, meaning game-day revelers are moving farther away from Bank of America Stadium or paying more for the remaining spots close to the stadium. And some people are just cramming more into a smaller space.

“It’s basically a free for all. (Parking lot space) is getting smaller across the board. It’s not just the Observer’s site; sites are disappearing because of the development around town,” said Jake Wilson, Mecklenburg County’s environmental supervisor who also heads a group that runs the recycling program in the tailgate lots.

“It is concerning from a tailgate perspective. Whether it’s condominiums, parking lots, whatever is going on. It affects the footprint around the stadium.”

Preferred Parking would sell game-day parking passes for between $60 and $100 for spots on the old Observer site, depending on their proximity to the stadium, Sands said.

He declined to say how much the construction on the site has cost his company in lost parking-permit revenue, just that it “presented a significant loss to our company.”

A joint venture of Charlotte-based Lincoln Harris and investment bank Goldman Sachs bought the newspaper’s former site earlier this year for $34.1 million. The companies plan to redevelop the two blocks running along Stonewall Street next to Bank of America Stadium and South Tryon Street into a large, mixed-use development. Lincoln Harris did not respond to a request for comment.

The growing popularity of the team, no doubt spurred by its perfect record at home, drew more tailgaters than ever last year. Sands said he saw “explosive growth” in tailgating in areas previously considered too far out into the South End corridor – along South Tryon and down Winnifred and Bland streets, for example.

For areas with available parking close in, spots have gotten pricier as demand picks up. Locations along Morehead and Mint streets, for instance, are now costing near the prices that the Observer spots were, Sands said.

“The constriction of space creates supply and demand issues that will inevitably raise the rates for surface lot spaces,” Sands said.

That was the case when Romare Bearden Park and the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark consumed parking lots in 2013, and again in 2015 when construction for the Crescent Stonewall Station development eliminated about 200 parking spots, Sands added.

But moving farther out isn’t always an option for less mobile older fans or those with disabilities.

Enter pedicabs, the rickshaw-like bike-and-cabin vehicles that zip through traffic uptown, keeping busiest during Panthers games and big concerts and events uptown.

Thomas Richards, who owns R&R Pedicab, said his company could experience a boost from faraway tailgaters wanting rides to the stadium. His drivers typically stop at Summit Street in South End, though he said he’s been telling them “it could be worth your time” to go farther.

He also anticipates that less parking uptown will encourage more people to use the light rail, so he’s also instructing drivers to pick up from train stops uptown.

The good news for Panthers fans looking for a place to party? Sands said most parking companies have mobile apps that allow drivers to see location and availability in real time. He also said despite the development boom, there remain thousands of less visible spots in parking garages for tailgating – as long as you leave your grill at home.

“You can’t grill or have a lit flame in a parking structure by the fire marshal’s standards. But people can still bring their box of chicken and sit on the back of their truck,” Sands said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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