Panthers David Tepper: Charlotte is destined to be the sports entertainment capital of the Carolinas
Atlanta built a $1.5 billion stadium that hosts football and soccer under a retractable roof. Pittsburgh is building a mixed-use entertainment district in the half-mile stretch between its existing football and baseball stadiums. And Minneapolis’ new stadium hosted the Super Bowl in 2018.
Now, Panthers owner David Tepper wants Charlotte to follow with the next stadium redevelopment project.
Last month, he told reporters that he’d like to have a new stadium with a retractable roof in Charlotte in the next decade, with taxpayer assistance to help with the costs.
But among his biggest challenges: there’s a lot less land available in uptown now than there was in 1994, when workers broke ground on Bank of America Stadium.
The potential sale of property across the highway from the Panthers’ stadium could be an opportunity for the franchise to expand its facilities or house a new stadium, though the team has yet to provide any specifics. And the relocation of the team’s headquarters and practice facility to Rock Hill will free up space in uptown.
A new stadium would be a major undertaking that would likely require significant public investment. If done in the same manner as the stadium projects in other cities, it could create a wave of development around the site.
Prior to Tepper’s announcement that he’d like a new stadium, Mark Hart, chief operating officer for the Panthers, told the Observer that the team is going to turn its attention to Bank of America Stadium and the surrounding area now that the Rock Hill move is finalized.
Location, location, location
Tepper said he’d like to build a new stadium in uptown if possible, but hasn’t said where he would put it. Space in and around uptown is increasingly hard to come by.
Just across Interstate 277 from Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte Pipe and Foundry occupies around 55 acres on South Clarkson Street. The firm has said it is evaluating options for the re-location of its foundry plant.
The company still hasn’t made a decision regarding building a new plant, Pipe and Foundry spokesman Brad Muller said in an email to the Observer last week.
The stadium occupies around 25 acres, while the nearby practice facility is around 8 acres.
Tom Glick, the Panthers’ president, told the Observer recently that the team benefits from having the stadium uptown.
“The city is growing right up to our doorstep,” he said. “We will be looking to add things on our property and to work with partners to add adjacent things that will round out the experience for sports fans.”
When Minneapolis hosted its first Super Bowl in 1992, its stadium was surrounded by parking lots and a solitary sports bar.
But when fans flocked to the city in 2018 for Super Bowl LII, it was a different story: the $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, featuring reflective glass, is surrounded by offices, hotels, apartments, restaurants and a park.
In cities like Minneapolis and Atlanta, stadium projects have been touted as economic drivers for areas that often haven’t seen as much investment. The area around the Minneapolis stadium has had more than $2 billion in new development since 2012, according to East Town Development, which promotes the neighborhood.
“It used to be you build the stadium in some corner of an area where it’s not populated, you build a new parking lot and you come,” said Mark Conrad, a professor at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business who focuses on sports business. “What you’re seeing more is you build a sports facility in connection with real estate and development.”
In Charlotte, new development has been spreading west of uptown, especially across Interstate 77 on West Morehead Street. But there are still a number of parking lots and industrial facilities near the stadium.
The area has long been a target for redevelopment. The 2020 Center City Vision Plan, adopted by City Council in 2011, envisions a “sports-oriented retail center” in the area around the stadium and BB&T Ballpark.
“We’ve made it very clear to the city and the mayor that we want to be part of all development around here,” the Panthers’ Hart said.
A ‘complementary investment’
There’s already some changes underway in and around the stadium area. Across from the stadium, developer Lincoln Harris is building a 23-story tower on South Mint Street where Honeywell will move its new headquarters.
The city and state also released a request for developers last month for the Gateway Station, where they’re looking to incorporate the station as part of a mixed-use development.
“(The stadium) does not have to create all of its own gravity,” said Michael Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners. “It is a complementary investment.”
To be sure, developing the land around the stadium has its challenges.
Smith said it will be difficult to sustain any retail if the area is solely reliant on periodic use of the stadium for sports games. The Panthers have 10 home games a year, two of which are in the preseason.
“We’re going to want a compliment of other uses so that Charlotteans ... are drawn there because of the quality of the place, whether the stadium is in active use or not,” he said.
In addition to trying to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte, Panthers officials want to host more events, like concerts and basketball tournaments, at the stadium. “If you have a building, you have to make sure it’s in business 365 days a year,” Hart said. “And it’s no secret I think that the prior ownership did not have that emphasis.”
Tepper has indicated that a new stadium would have to be built in coordination with the city.
Other cities have invested significant capital in such projects. Atlanta provided $200 million upfront to finance the construction of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and several hundred million more in taxpayer dollars for upkeep for three decades.
Ron Kimble, former deputy Charlotte city manager, has told city council members that the city’s tourism tax wouldn’t be enough to cover the city’s share of the cost of financing a new stadium, the Observer reported.
Conrad, the Fordham professor, said he’s skeptical about how much new stadiums add to the local economy.
“The stadium is a revenue generator,” he said. “The question is going to be, who is gonna get the revenue?”
Tepper’s wealth also could make a new stadium a hard sell to the public, Conrad said. Tepper, who made his money as a hedge fund manager, is worth $11.6 billion, according to Forbes.
But building a sports entertainment district can bring in money from outside the community, said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a sports business consulting firm, who has been involved with over two dozen sports facility projects. He also said it adds to the quality of life.
“It’s part of the mosaic of creating a complete community,” he said. “What makes a community are the arts, public parks and sports.”
Staff writer Brendan Marks contributed to this report.