No contract has been signed, but the Carolina Panthers and South Carolina lawmakers are working on a deal to move the team’s business operations and training facilities out of Charlotte and across the border into South Carolina.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster made the announcement Wednesday, standing in front of House and Senate leadership, most of whom attended a private meeting at the governor’s mansion that morning with Panthers owner David Tepper to discuss details of the deal.
Tepper did not attend the press conference, nor did other Panthers employees or members of his legal team.
McMaster said Tepper expressed interest in moving 150 employees to a site in York or Lancaster counties, involving an estimated payroll of $190 million a year. Last month, the Panthers met with Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys and U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, whose district borders the Carolinas.
McMaster said the potential Panthers’ move would include an estimated investment of at least $150 million within a four-year period.
“This is a very exciting moment for South Carolina,” the governor said, adding that talks between Tepper and South Carolina leaders have been going on for months. “Of course, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Charlotte-area corporations have often pitted North Carolina and South Carolina against each other to elicit the best incentives deal, the Observer has reported. The Panthers could do the same.
Tepper has had “ongoing conversations” with the N.C. Commerce Department, said Ford Porter, a spokesman for N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper. Tepper also has met with Cooper a few times over the past few months.
During an appearance Wednesday at UNC Charlotte, Cooper was asked by reporters whether North Carolina will make a counteroffer. Cooper said he plans “to consult with local governmental officials and determine what it is we want to do.
“Charlotte has always thought big and that’s why it’s the successful city that it is, so I think there is time to discuss what needs to happen in the future and what we need to do to make sure we have a continued strong relationship with the Panthers,” Cooper said.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles told the Observer that although the city has not spoken with Cooper’s office about a joint effort to keep the team’s entire operations in Charlotte, the city intends to work on some sort of retention effort.
“We see the Panthers as a great asset in our city. Of course we want them to be successful and competitive,” Lyles said.
A team spokesman could not be reached for comment.
‘We can outrun anyone’
State lawmakers already are hoping to push new legislation filed Wednesday through the respective committees as quickly as possible to make the team eligible for specific incentives. That includes tax breaks and infrastructure improvements that have been used by state leaders to lure other economic powerhouses such as Boeing in North Charleston and Volvo in Berkeley County.
“A professional football team is a big business,” said House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington. “And it involves much much more than where you play your football games.”
McMaster said if the Panthers come to the state, the property will include practice fields, parking, offices and other facilities. McMaster also said there is a potential to collaborate and bring hotels, restaurants and retail.
When asked whether he’s worried about competing bids from North Carolina, McMaster said he’s confident a deal will be sealed.
“We’re not concerned about that,” he said. “We’re thinking about South Carolina. We know we can outrun anyone on the field.”
Bruce Henderson contributed to this story.