CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers want to renovate Bank of America Stadium. On Monday night-- behind closed doors-- Charlotte City Council voted to try and get them $125 million in tax dollars to do so.
If some of this talk about giving public money to help a private sports team in Charlotte sounds familiar, it’s because Charlotte has been through this sort of thing before.
In the late 90s, the Charlotte Hornets asked for a new arena Uptown, and wanted the city to help pay for it.
Co-owner Ray Wooldridge said the team wanted to minimize public investment. At one point, the Hornets said they were losing a million dollars a month because the Charlotte Coliseum didn't have enough skyboxes. So they negotiated with the city.
"Our goal,” said then-city manager Pam Syfert in 2000, “Is to to get the Hornets to pay as much as they can for a new arena."
During the negotiations, the Hornets had offered to pay about a third to half of the $200 million cost, although several people complained to council that they didn’t want any public money going to help a private sports team.
In 2001, the city asked voters: Should public money be used to fund a new arena? The question was put forth in a referendum, which also included funding for several arts projects.
Fifty-seven percent voted no.
In 2002, the Hornets and their unpopular owners left town for New Orleans.
“I think if a new arena were built,” NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik told NBC Charlotte in 2002, “then there would be the possibility for an expansion team down the road.”
So, the City of Charlotte spent $265 million to build what’s now known as Time Warner Cable Arena, which upset some taxpayers who had voted against the arena in 2001. Then-mayor Pat McCrory said most of the money came from a hotel-motel tax.
The Bobcats came, but one city councilwoman left. “There was still a pretty strong anti arena sentiment,” said Lynn Wheeler, who had supported the new arena, “and those voters came out and didn't vote for me.”
There are some key differences between the Hornets’ and the Panthers’ situations. One big one: the Charlotte Coliseum was owned by the city, which currently owns Time Warner Cable Arena. The Panthers own Bank of America Stadium, which celebrates its seventeenth birthday this year. That’s the same age the Coliseum was when it closed its doors for good.