David Tepper, billionaire owner of the Carolina Panthers, intends to replace Bank of America Stadium, and expects public money to help do that.
Unpalatable as that might sound — Tepper is worth more than $11 billion, why does he need tax dollars? — he’s going to get help from the city and/or the state. Politicians do not want to be remembered as pushing the NFL out of Charlotte.
So the real question is: How a stadium built sometime in the next decade can be much more than a place to house the Panthers?
The good news is Tepper is a visionary in that way. He’s a departure from the Panthers’ founding owner, Jerry Richardson, who built a stadium almost exclusively intended for football. That makes for great sight lines at Bank of America Stadium. But other than some soccer matches, the facility has not been widely utilized over its 23 years.
The next stadium — Tepper wants it to have a retractable roof — must be suitable for the biggest concerts and major conventions. A facility that gets Charlotte its first men’s basketball Final Four since 1994., and a turn at hosting college football playoff games. Even a Super Bowl. Anything less than filling that prescription should be rejected.
The model should be Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Opened in 2017, it has already hosted the 2018 college football championship game and the 2019 Super Bowl. It will host the Final Four next spring.
Atlanta was bold in spending more than a billion dollars to replace the Georgia Dome. But without modern infrastructure, Atlanta would have stopped being an option for those major events.
That’s a lesson Charlotte’s own history reinforces.
I spent years in the early 2000s covering the debate over whether Charlotte should build an uptown arena to replace the Coliseum out on Tyvola Road. That started as a way to retain the original Hornets and then became a means to replace the Hornets (by then gone to New Orleans) with an NBA expansion team.
The conversation changed regarding a new arena when city officials became aware that the CIAA, which annually held its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Charlotte, viewed the Tyvola building as becoming outdated. Then-City Council member Malcolm Graham made an eloquent speech on whether Charlotte needed an arena suitable for more than hosting the circus and ice shows.
As Graham put it, if Charlotte needed a new arena anytime in the next 25 years, then it would be foolish not to partner with the NBA to pay for it. Graham also argued that Charlotte doesn’t have the beach or the mountains, so it must have infrastructure to draw visitors to help fill local hotels and restaurants and grow.
That idea became Spectrum Center, and it’s been good for public policy: That building will host its second national political convention next year. It has already hosted an NBA All-Star Game, multiple NCAA and ACC tournaments and hundreds of concerts. It was expensive at $260 million in construction costs, but it has accomplished plenty in establishing Charlotte as a destination.
Tepper has abundant self-interest in maximizing the $2.2 billion investment he made in buying the Panthers. He was in sales mode Wednesday, pitching the merits of a new stadium with reporters at training camp. However, Tepper also made sense, as far as synergy is concerned, with Charlotte maximizing its potential as a destination.
For instance ...
“How the heck can you not have a Final Four in North Carolina when Indianapolis has one all the freakin’ time? It’s ridiculous!” Tepper said.
It’s not ridiculous. It’s reflective of how Indianapolis and the Colts worked together to build two facilities — first the RCA Dome, then Lucas Oil Stadium — that were multipurpose. Bank of America Stadium — cool a place as it is to watch the Panthers — is not that.
If it’s inevitable that billionaire Tepper will get hundreds of millions in public money to build something new, it must be something very different.
Not something that pays for itself — that’s unrealistic. But at minimum something that changes Charlotte for the better at least as much as it does the Panthers.