Let’s link funding for a new Carolina Panthers stadium to another kind of housing

By Jay Leach - Special to the Observer editorial board

Charlotte will soon face questions about a new Panthers stadium.
Charlotte will soon face questions about a new Panthers stadium. Observer file photo

So, what’ll it be Charlotte? What is our real priority now? We’ve been talking for a long time about our desperate need for more affordable housing. We’ve been hearing community leaders expressing their commitment to address this serious need in our community. We’re supposedly keenly cognizant of our gaping gulf in opportunity.

But, with the turmoil and transition in ownership of our local NFL franchise, suddenly there’s a new “need” on the table. Certain people, with an eye on the lucrative possibility of owning shares in the billion-dollar business of pro football, are staking their claims on our city and county coffers.

So, what’ll it be – an affordable roof over the heads of our citizens, or, a retractable roof over the heads of fans on a few afternoons and evenings in the fall?

Jay Leach

Many of us have a nervous hand on our wallets. We’re aware of what happens when professional sports barons come calling. Arenas get built. Stadiums get erected. Sports palaces then get upgraded with multi-million dollar accessories that, evidently, have the shelf life of a not-so-gently used car.

Meanwhile, we continue mostly to talk about affordable housing while rifling through our community’s couch cushions for the kind of loose change that primarily serves to salve our consciences.

Here’s a suggestion: Why not link these two “needs”? No, I’m not proposing that we create a stadium that doubles as an overnight shelter for our most vulnerable neighbors. I’m not suggesting that we require players to rent out their spare bedrooms to working folks who can’t afford the most modest of our new apartments. This is a more practical proposition.

Let’s challenge the Charlotte City Council, with its bright new band of millennial masterminds, and our Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners to pass a relatively moderate resolution: Any money offered for the creation or support of any professional sports facility or operation must be matched with an equal contribution to our community’s Housing Trust Fund.

Should we be called upon to dig deep for football, we would be required to make an absolutely equal effort to add resources for more affordable housing.

We pride ourselves as a prime locale for financial expertise. Surely among us we can find a way to make such a plan work without resorting again to arguments about designated dollars and regrettable limitations.

By adopting this approach, Charlotte could create a new precedent for how cities relate to professional sports franchises. With the commitment to match each dollar devoted to games to a dollar given for the benefit of the common good, we could distinguish ourselves as a place with clear, impressive community values.

In time, we may realize that our truest values commend a ratio of funding that finds two (or five or 10) dollars to bridge our opportunity chasm for each dollar offered to support pro sports.

Imagine – the nation’s eyes turned to our city not just because we happen to host a big game, but because we’re home to people able to live lives of safety, dignity, pride and hope. It would be a touchdown, home run and game-winning shot all rolled into one.

Leach is senior minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte.