Carolina Panthers

Charlotte already knows the best answers for new Panthers ownership, stadium

The offseason move I most want the Carolina Panthers to make: Sell the team to Felix Sabates and what I suspect will be a growing and diverse investment group.

One of the qualities Panther fans ought to like about Sabates is that we know him. We know him through NASCAR and we know him as a presence in Charlotte. Many of us know him personally. If Sabates had $10,000 for everybody in Charlotte he has talked to and laughed with in the last year, he’d need no investors.

Sabates attracts people. I can envision him at a long table with potential investors who have never met the man. At the end of the hour, they believe. Sabates will invest a project with his personality and his passion, and he’ll have fun doing it. That fun is contagious.

The Panthers aren’t leaving Charlotte, at least not any time soon. There is no better market, not in Toronto, London, Mexico City or whatever other city you want to manufacture because you enjoy panic and fear.

But to compete with a city such as Atlanta for major events, a new stadium will be required. It will have to be downtown, or adjoin uptown Charlotte. To build it outside the center city is to give up.

The stadium has to be an investment, and not a gift. Do you remember what the area around Bank of America Stadium looked like before the stadium was built? The neighborhood was empty, a collection of bleak buildings, with few signs of life.

To make the post-Richardson Panthers work, strong and credible leadership will be required. I’d love to see Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte businessman and former Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad join Sabates because we know them. Both are bright and both are driven, and that’s a fine place to start.

There are strong leaders in Charlotte – some who want to be known, some who prefer to work quietly. I suspect and hope that a few of them are part of Sabates’ group.

For logistical reasons, the NFL will deal not with a council but with a single leader. For the sake of this franchise, and the NFL in Charlotte, I hope it’s Sabates.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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