Politics & Government

City Council could have Friday stadium vote; mayor calls for Friday public debate

Deputy city manager Ron Kimble gives a public presentation Monday about a proposal for the city and county to each spend $43.75 million toward a new Major League Soccer stadium.
Deputy city manager Ron Kimble gives a public presentation Monday about a proposal for the city and county to each spend $43.75 million toward a new Major League Soccer stadium. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte City Council Monday night heard for the first time details about a proposal to spend $43.75 million on a new Major League Soccer stadium.

After the presentation, Mayor Jennifer Roberts said council members didn’t have time to discuss the issue among themselves Monday in a public setting. Because the meeting was running late, Roberts said council members could email staff members their questions about the stadium this week.

That prompted an angry response from council member Patsy Kinsey, who represents the Elizabeth neighborhood where the stadium would be built.

“We should talk about this as a group,” Kinsey said. “We shouldn’t be picked off one by one.”

After the meeting, Kinsey said the stadium is too important to not have a longer public debate.

“This doesn’t look right, it doesn’t smell right,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, Roberts e-mailed City Manager Marcus Jones and asked for a public forum and discussion on the plan Friday afternoon.

“We need to show our willingness to be transparent on this matter on which there are many different views in the community,” Roberts said.

Roberts asked that the Friday meeting begin at 4 p.m. Council members could vote on the stadium deal that evening.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble admitted that the process for compiling a bid has been rushed. After Major League Soccer announced in mid-December it would be expanding to 28 teams, Charlotte has had roughly seven weeks to finish its bid.

Bruton Smith, the billionaire race track owner, and his son Marcus, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, are leading the effort for a Charlotte team. The ownership group has to submit a proposal for an expansion team to Major League Soccer by Jan. 31.

The city and county would each spend $43.75 million toward a $175 million stadium. That’s down from the $50 million each that was sought in the initial proposal in early January.

County-owned Memorial Stadium, which dates to the 1930s, and the Grady Cole Center would be torn down for what was initially projected to be a $150 million stadium for an MLS expansion team.

Mecklenburg commissioners will hold a public hearing on the plan Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. They plan to vote on the stadium plan Thursday.

City Council members will hold a three-day retreat in Raleigh starting Wednesday. Kimble’s plan is for council members to drive back from Raleigh around noon and then reconvene Friday afternoon to vote on the MLS plan.

The city originally planned to discuss the stadium plan in closed session Monday, as Mecklenburg commissioners did twice. But with the Jan. 31 deadline looming, the city decided to have a public presentation.

Roberts said all other cities bidding for an MLS team are under the same tight deadline. After ending discussion on the stadium, council members heard a presentation on improving economic mobility.

Council members heard the discussion during the dinner meeting, which is open to the public. The presentation had not been on the council’s agenda, and city staff alerted the media to the presentation two hours before the meeting began.

“We have been crushing it to get as far along as we could,” Kimble said.

Kimble said he believes that MLS will want a new team in the Southeast. That means Charlotte’s competition is Raleigh; Nashville, Tenn.; and Tampa/St. Pete, Fla.

The county’s $43.75 million would come from its general fund, which can be used for things such as social services and schools. The city’s money would come from a hotel/motel occupancy tax, which is restricted to tourism purposes.

The city said its tourism taxes will still have enough money for other needs, even if the stadium is approved.

By 2023, the city said, its four tourism taxes will have $589 million in debt capacity remaining.

During his presentation, Kimble said the city will have a difficult decision to make after the 10-year “tether” to keep the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte expires in 2023. Kimble has said the city may have to help fund a new stadium in order to keep the team in Charlotte.

That debt capacity of $589 million could be a down payment toward the city’s contribution for a new stadium. New NFL stadiums cost more than $1 billion.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs