It took only three questions during David Tepper’s introductory press conference before the new Carolina Panthers owner fielded a one about whether he planned to keep the team in Charlotte.
And while Tepper said Charlotte was the “logical place” for the stadium, he also said he wants to have a presence in both Carolinas.
That could mean shifting part of the team’s operations across the state line.
Tepper could consider building a new practice complex that includes mixed-use development, according to an industry insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are preliminary. Tepper is said to be open to considering sites on either side of the state line.
The Panthers’ current practice facility — located behind Bank of America Stadium on the opposite side of a rail line — includes two grass fields and another with an artificial surface. The team does not have an indoor facility, and sometimes practices at the Charlotte Convention Center during heavy rains.
The Dallas Cowboys in 2016 opened a state-of-the-art practice complex in suburban Frisco that features a 12,000-seat indoor facility that also hosts local high school games.
That $1.5 billion development spans 91 acres and also includes retail and restaurant space, a 16-story hotel and a sports therapy facility.
The Cowboys’ complex – dubbed the Star – could be what Tepper was referring to when he made a reference to “development” Tuesday.
Other than his press conference, Tepper did not speak to reporters during the spring meetings, which concluded Wednesday.
Charlotte businessman Felix Sabates said he has spoken with Tepper about the possible benefits of doing business in South Carolina.
“David Tepper loves Charlotte. But he also has to do what’s right for him,” Sabates said Wednesday. “He has never mentioned to me anything about South Carolina. But I have mentioned it to him because sometimes I get the feeling that our city council (members) are not too willing to help anybody except themselves.”
Sabates put together a local ownership group to buy the Panthers early in the sale process and met with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster about his plans to build a new stadium near Carowinds in Fort Mill.
Sabates, a Charlotte Hornets minority owner and former NASCAR team owner, said the Carowinds site offered easy access to I-77 and ample land to build parking lots, a revenue stream that is limited at Bank of America Stadium.
NC support lagging?
Sabates said McMaster was receptive to having the Panthers in South Carolina, in contrast to North Carolina lawmakers, whom Sabates said did little for Panthers founder Jerry Richardson.
North Carolina did not help fund the Panthers’ renovations that began in 2013. But the state provided minimal assistance, including highway patrol for game-day traffic for several years in the mid-1990s.
Charlotte has lost a number of businesses over the years to tax-friendly South Carolina.
On Monday, RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp. announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Charlotte to Fort Mill in exchange for a state incentives package.
Other local companies that have opted to relocate from Charlotte to South Carolina include Movement Mortgage, LPL Financial and Diversey, a cleaning products company that was spun off from bubble wrap maker Sealed Air.
During a visit to Charlotte in January, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called the Panthers “critical to the Charlotte area and North Carolina’s economy.”
City leaders reached an agreement with the Panthers in 2013 to spend $87.5 million on stadium renovations and game-day operating subsidies. The city has set aside $75 million for a second round of renovations, but that money isn't available for four years.
Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, said the Panthers help bring jobs and money to the city and his group looks forward to working with Tepper.
“The Carolina Panthers are a foundational asset to this community, and being an NFL city is a differentiator in attracting talent, jobs and investment,” Smith said in a statement to the Observer.
'Huge plans for Charlotte'
And while Tepper weighs putting a practice site in South Carolina, Sabates doesn’t get the impression the hedge fund manager is considering moving the stadium there.
“I don’t think he would do that. David loves Charlotte,” Sabates said. “He’s got huge plans for Charlotte.”
Tepper, 60, whose net worth is about $11 billion according to Forbes, seemed to allude to those plans this week with references to an MLS team and unspecified development.
Sabates said he’s become friendly with Tepper, but is not interested in becoming a limited partner. Tepper said it might be difficult to have minority partners depending on how much development he decides to undertake.
“He’s a young guy. He’s 60 years old,” Sabates said. “When you’re 60 years old and a billionaire with big ideas, it can get very expensive for a partner.”