NFL - Football

Panthers facility in Rock Hill put on hold as city is a year late on payment, source says

Work continues on the new Panther training facility in Rock Hill, SC on Wednesday, August 11, 2021.
Work continues on the new Panther training facility in Rock Hill, SC on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Construction of the Carolina Panthers’ state-of-the-art headquarters in Rock Hill has been placed on pause, Tepper Sports & Entertainment said Monday.

The first phase of the construction was slated to be completed in 2023, but the City of Rock Hill did not make its initial payment, which was due in March 2021, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The company continued construction but never received the payment from the city.

“We are committed to bettering the Carolinas community that supports our team and players,” Tepper Sports & Entertainment said in the statement. “To that end, while GT Real Estate Holdings, LLC has invested more than $170 million into the development in Rock Hill, our partners have been unable to contribute the agreed upon investment to fund the construction of the public infrastructure.

“Given the economic realities, the difficult but prudent decision has been made to pause the project. The on-going work will continue with our partners to find an economically acceptable solution for all parties to continue this project in Rock Hill.”

The awaited investment from the city was expected to fund the project’s infrastructure, which includes roads, water and power lines and sewage, the source said. TS&E will continue to pay all the workers on the site and extend their wages a week from the moment the project is paused.

Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun, however, told the Observer in a phone interview that to his knowledge, “the city has met all financial obligations we’re required under the agreement.”

It’s unclear exactly how much money the South Carolina city just across the state line from Charlotte is said to be short on.

A little after 4 p.m. Monday, Rock Hill mayor John Gettys said he’d recently spoken with team officials. He said the team plans to evaluate the project given recent economic variables like COVID and inflation.

“We’re going to sit back and wait to see what they plan to do,” Gettys said.

As for whether the entire Rock Hill project is in jeopardy, Gettys said it’s a team decision.

“That’s really a question for them,” he said. “That’s not my impression from our conversation.”

Gettys said it isn’t a question of city commitment. The city, county and state have been part of various economic incentive agreements to lure the Panthers project. The city agreed to put decades of potential tax revenue from the project toward promised infrastructure upgrades for the team.

“We were all-in from the beginning,” Gettys said.

The Panthers broke ground on the 240-acre property in July 2020.

The nearly 700,000-square-foot training facility is supposed to include an indoor practice field and is expected to help promote growth in the surrounding area, while also improving the environment for the team.

It will be one of the largest facilities in the NFL, if not the largest, and compete with the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters in Frisco, Texas. The Observer toured the facility, nicknamed “The Rock,” last August. At the time, 340 workers were on-site to help build the facility.

South Carolina offered about $115 million in incentives for the Panthers to move their headquarters there from their home at Bank of America Stadium. In total, the Panthers have said they are investing more than $1 billion to develop and build the facility.

The facility is supposed to be a big economic boost for the city and the state.

While the team is building a practice facility, it will also be a sports-and-entertainment venue with the potential to hold a variety of events, from soccer games to high school sports championships and corporate events and concerts.

That was one of the biggest draws for the city.

However, since starting construction, the project has run into multiple issues. It was initially supposed to open in August 2022 but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays.

The team had previously warned York County that the project would be in jeopardy after the City of Rock Hill missed its payments.

In May 2021, Panthers Chief Operating Officer Mark Hart sent an email to York County Manager David Hudspeth asking for help. Hart wrote that they were concerned that without the county’s assistance, the city would not secure the necessary $225 million in bond money needed for the project.

The deadline for the bonds to be issued was October 2020, but was pushed back to Feb. 26, 2021. Without the $225 million in bonds there is “a high risk necessary infrastructure objectives will not be met,” Hart wrote in the email.

In a statement Monday, York County said it was aware of the announcement by the team.

“Although York County is not responsible for funding the infrastructure at the site, County staff is in communication with the Carolina Panthers, and hopes to work toward a solution that protects County taxpayers,” the statement said.

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