Carolina Panthers seek $125 million from Charlotte for Bank of America Stadium renovation

The Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte

The Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal) — The Carolina Panthers asked the Charlotte City Council in closed session late Monday for $125 million to help pay for renovating Bank of America Stadium, according to two sources.

The team has been working on a long-term renovation plan for the 17-year-old stadium, and some council members and Mayor Anthony Foxx indicated last fall they would be willing to help pay for upgrades.

To pay for the renovations, council members discussed Monday increasing Mecklenburg County’s tax on prepared food and beverages by a penny. That would bring the restaurant/bar tax to 2 percent, said three sources, who asked to remain unnamed because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The existing 1 percent prepared food and beverage tax – much of which is paid for by locals – generates about $24 million a year. The increase would cover the annual debt payments for the city’s cost of the improvements.

Any increase in the food and beverage tax would need to be approved by the N.C. General Assembly. It’s possible the increase might only be levied inside the city limits.

Council members met with the team in the basement of the Government Center at the conclusion of the council’s regular business meeting. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police didn’t allow the media near the outside of the closed session meeting room.

Team owner Jerry Richardson and President Danny Morrison attended the meeting, which ended shortly after 11 p.m.

No one from the Panthers was available for questions.

In spring 2012, when the Charlotte Knights baseball team asked for city help, all of its requests were done in public, usually at the council’s economic development committee. The team also fielded questions from council members about its funding request in public.

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann said earlier Monday that council isn’t required to use a closed session for economic development issues. Instead, council members have the option to meet in public, as they did with the Knights.

City officials are only required to use closed sessions when discussing personnel issues, he said.

In October, several council members toured MetLife Stadium, a new $1.6 billion stadium in New Jersey that’s used by the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets. The trip was part of the Charlotte Chamber’s inter-city visit. Richardson spoke to council members and others on the tour.

The team has given only a few details of what a renovation could entail. The team told the Observer last fall that Richardson wants to add escalators to make it easier for fans to reach the upper bowl. In addition, the team wants to improve its video boards.

The Panthers’ request comes at a politically difficult time for the City Council, which is deadlocked on whether to approve a multi-year capital plan that would require a property tax increase.

The money for the Panthers would reportedly not come from the city’s general fund, which is mostly paid for with property taxes.

Some council members had believed that money for the Panthers could come from an increase in the county’s hotel/motel occupancy tax. But Monday’s closed session meeting focused on the prepared food and beverage tax, the sources said.

This was at least the second closed session meeting in which council members have talked about the Panthers.

Taxpayers got a good deal when Bank of America Stadium was built, at least compared with the subsidies given to many NFL teams.

The public spent about $60 million on land and infrastructure, but the team built the $187 million stadium itself. Some of that money came from the sale of Personal Seat Licenses, in which fans paid for the right to buy season tickets.

In Minnesota, taxpayers are paying for half of the cost of a planned $975 million stadium for the Vikings. In Indianapolis, the public paid for almost all of the new $720 million stadium for the NFL’s Colts, which opened in 2008.

Some council members are worried about the Panthers’ long-term future in Charlotte. Richardson, who had heart transplant surgery in 2009, fired his two sons as team executives and hasn’t announced a succession plan for the team.

Los Angeles is trying to lure at least one NFL team to play in a new stadium.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal

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