Panthers eyeing SC site along I-77 for expansion, Rock Hill mayor says

The Carolina Panthers are considering a tract of undeveloped land along Interstate 77 in Rock Hill as the potential home for their practice facility, headquarters and related development, Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said Thursday.

The property is south of the Cherry Road exit on I-77 and is bordered by the interstate, Anderson Road and the Eden Terrace extension.

The land, which sources say is owned by longtime Rock Hill business leader Hiram Hutchison, sits in a largely industrial area with a neighborhood to the northwest.

Getty’s would not confirm that the property under consideration by the Panthers belongs to Hutchison, a member of a family that has been prominent in Rock Hill for more than a century. But Gettys did say that the I-77 tract described by the Observer is in “close proximity” to the site that has been offered for sale to the team.

The State newspaper in Columbia has reported that Panthers owner David Tepper wants to buy up to 200 acres for the team’s practice areas, offices, and other development, and that the search includes Rock Hill and York County.

Gettys said the property along I-77 is the only Rock Hill site he’s aware of that remains in consideration.

Gettys, an attorney who was elected Rock Hill mayor in 2017, said he has been part of a group that has been meeting with the Panthers in a months-long effort to land the team’s training facilities and headquarters. He said the Hutchinson property was among several parcels that had been recommended to the team.

It’s unclear how many tracts remain in the running. While discussions with the team have been “very warm” and direct, Gettys said, “They’ve been coy about other sites.”

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who represents the district that borders Charlotte, said he joined Gettys at a Feb. 5 meeting at Panthers’ headquarters to pitch the team.

Norman, a longtime York County developer, told The State on Thursday that he knows of “several sites” under consideration but could not reveal specifics. He did say that none of his property is involved.

“However, any landowner would love to have them,” Norman said, describing the Panthers as “a tremendous asset” who bring “tremendous value to the entire area.”

During an interview with the Observer at this week’s NFL meetings in Phoenix, Tepper described his franchise as a “two-state team” committed to making a positive development impact in both Carolinas for years to come.

North Carolina officials have expressed hope that the Panthers’ expansion would stay in Charlotte. The Rock Hill site under consideration is about 10 miles from the N.C. line.

Gettys said the deal still swings on whether the S.C. legislature will approve a package of incentives that could offer Tepper and his franchise up to $115 million in tax breaks over the next 15 years should they build in South Carolina.

The bill is being held up in the state Senate by Sen. Dick Harpootlian who says he wants to see a breakdown of the economic benefits vs. the lost tax money before he votes.

Gettys said a development the size of what the Panthers are envisioning would more than pay for itself over time.

“Every big initiative in South Carolina for the past 40 years has done so,” he said. “Why would this be any different?”

For now, he said, Rock Hill waits on the legislature.

“Columbia controls everything,” he said. “We’re very excited and hopeful. But until Columbia decides, this is all up in the air.”

Emma Dumain of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed.