Senate passes Panthers bill; talks with city to re-start

Senate passes Panthers bill; talks with city to re-start

Credit: MARK HAMES - mhames@charlotteobserver.com

4/9/13 - Bank of America Stadium taken from bridge on South Tryon over John Belk Freeway.

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by JIM MORRILL / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on April 11, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 10 at 5:31 AM

RALEIGH, N.C. --  Negotiations between the Carolina Panthers and the City of Charlotte over stadium renovations are expected to re-open Monday after Thursday’s passage of a stadium financing bill.

The negotiations also would deal with a so-called tether, or agreement to keep the team in Charlotte.

“This is huge for the city,” City Council member James Mitchell, the council’s lead negotiator, told reporters after Thursday morning’s Senate vote.

By a vote of 45-0, the Senate approved a bill that allows the city to use occupancy taxes now earmarked for the Charlotte Convention Center for upgrades to Bank of America Stadium. The bill, which already passed the House, now becomes law.

The measure falls short of what the Panthers — and the city — originally wanted. Lawmakers rejected the city’s first proposal, which would have given the team $144 million by raising the local prepared food tax.

State officials have also rejected the team’s request for $62.5 million toward a planned stadium upgrade costing nearly $300 million.

City officials say the existing occupancy tax could generate $110 million for the stadium, the Convention Center and amateur sports. Mitchell estimated Thursday that about 80 percent of that, or $88 million, might be available for the stadium.

“Now it’s time for us to re-engage with the Panthers and talk about a lower-cost upgrade to the stadium,” Mitchell said.

In a statement, Panthers’ President Danny Morrison said only, “We are pleased that the bill has passed both the House and Senate and look forward to the next step of the process with the city.”

Mayor Anthony Foxx said he’s pleased lawmakers did “what they felt they could to keep the Panthers franchise in North Carolina.”

“We now have to work with the City Council and the Panthers … to see what can be done.”

Mitchell said negotiations would deal with tethering the team to Charlotte. That’s important because team owner Jerry Richardson, who’s 76, has said that the team would be sold two years after his death.

The city’s original agreement with the team called for a 15-year tether.

“It won’t be 15, 15’s off the table,” Mitchell said. But, he added, “The tether is important to us, it’s important to the Panthers. I just know they want to stay in Charlotte.”

The bill passed Thursday would give the Panthers less than half what originally sought in public help for stadium improvements.

Reports this week said the Miami Dolphins could get a $150 million loan from the NFL for improvements to Sun Life Stadium. The money would supplement $289 million in public support.

Asked whether the Panthers would seek NFL help, Morrison said, "It’s premature. Any NFL financing is contingent on public participation."

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