City help for Panthers likely to be less than $110 million

City help for Panthers likely to be less than $110 million

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by STEVE HARRISON / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on April 8, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 9 at 7:21 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The city of Charlotte is committed to giving the Carolina Panthers financial help to renovate Bank of America Stadium, but City Council member James Mitchell said Monday the city will likely be short of its original $144 million pledge to the team.

Mitchell, who has been the council’s lead negotiator with the team, said the city will use $110 million of debt capacity from the Convention Center fund to help the Panthers. But the team will have to share some of that money with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Mitchell said.

In addition, he ruled out using other tax dollars to help the team.

“That’s it,” Mitchell said Monday night. “Our hands are tied.”

Mitchell and city staff members, along with Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority President Tom Murray, met with the Panthers Monday. Mitchell said the team understood the city’s financial limits.

The city had hoped to raise the local prepared food and beverage tax from 1 percent to 2 percent, which would have raised roughly $1 billion over 30 years. That would have paid for the Panthers’ current plans to renovate the stadium and would have also raised millions of dollars for a second phase of renovations in 2028 or possibly a new stadium.

But the General Assembly rejected that plan. Legislators are considering a bill that would allow the city to use existing tax dollars earmarked for the Convention Center.

The Convention Center fund has a surplus that could generate $110 million in new debt. Mitchell said Murray is working on a long-term plan for the Convention Center, and will try to put a price on how much those renovations would cost.

The Panthers’ original plan was for the city to contribute $125 million toward stadium renovations, along with about $19 million in maintenance and other subsidies over 15 years. The team asked the state for $62.5 million. The Panthers were going to contribute $62.5 million.

The General Assembly has ruled out helping the team, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said the Commerce Department doesn’t have money to help the team.

If the city and state had given that money, the Panthers would agree to stay in Charlotte for 15 years, starting with the 2013 season.

Mitchell said the new “tether” will probably be for a shorter amount of time.

Last month, Mitchell said the city would consider looking at other ways to help the team, in addition to using the Convention Center money. One option, for instance, would be to raise a special property tax in uptown that’s designated for Center City Partners.

Mitchell said the city has ruled that out.

“You would have made the corporate community say, ‘Why us?’ ”Mitchell said.

The Panthers were not discussed during the City Council’s regular business meeting Monday night, which was Ron Carlee’s first as manager.

• In other action, council members discussed a plan to keep sidewalks clear of obstructions such as parked cars and rollout trash containers. The city has had an advertising campaign to keep sidewalks clear after the May 2012 death of a Myers Park High student, who was killed while bicycling to school. He swerved to avoid a trash container in the sidewalk and was struck by a truck.

The new proposal could result in a $50 fine for people who leave items such as trash containers in sidewalks. But city staff acknowledged many residents don’t have anywhere else to place their trash cans, and would be exempt.

• Council members approved 9-2 a change to the city’s Small Business Opportunity program to include specific race and gender goals to increase the hiring of minority- and women-owned businesses.

The city stopped having race and gender targets for hiring a decade ago amid the fear of litigation. The city instead focused on trying to steer city contracts to small businesses, hoping that women and minority-owned firms would still get a boost.

But some council members have pushed for the changes after a consultant, MGT America, found in 2010 that minority- and women-owned firms weren’t receiving as much work as the city had hoped. MGT, however, did not recommend any changes to the city’s small business program.

In a controversial decision, the City Council then hired a second consultant, the Baltimore law firm Tydings & Rosenburg, which recommended the city set specific goals for such firms.

Mayor Anthony Foxx – in his first meeting since he announced he isn’t running for re-election – supported the change.

“Are we for the middle of the road, or are we for everybody?” Foxx said. “This isn’t just about historical discrimination; we have evidence of current discrimination in our contracting.”

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