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Rock Hill has yet to issue $225M in bonds for Panthers project

Rock Hill was supposed to have issued the equivalent of $225 million worth of infrastructure loans by now for the new Panthers training facility. The city hasn't.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Less than three months before the Carolina Panthers paused construction on their new training facility Monday, in which they cited a failure by partners to "contribute the agreed upon investment to fund the construction of the public infrastructure," Rock Hill's city attorney told council members securing the more than $200 million in bonds needed for the project was not a done deal yet.

Rock Hill Communications and Marketing Manager Katie Quinn confirmed Tuesday, the city has yet to issue any bonds for the project, which is well past Rock Hill's deadline to do so. WCNC Charlotte has asked why and is awaiting a response.

Council records show leaders approved the issuance of bonds for the Panthers project of up to $290,000,000 at a meeting in December 2021. At the time, City Attorney Paul Dillingham told council members the goal was to have the bonds issued by the end of February 2022.

"There's still some work and some items to be negotiated to get these bonds issued," Dillingham said at the meeting.

Just minutes later, the mayor applauded the city's progress.

"Congratulations, the Panthers deal is done," Mayor John Gettys said as others cheered during the meeting.

On Tuesday, the development project remained at a standstill.

Rock Hill's Capital Improvement Plan dedicates $135,000.000 worth of bonds to the project this fiscal year and earmarks an additional $90,000,000 for FY 2023. At the December council meeting, Dillingham suggested the city's underwriters thought splitting the bonds would "enhance their marketability."

Public records reveal the Carolina Panthers had concerns as early as last spring that Rock Hill would not be able to obtain the full amount of loans needed for the project. In a letter to York County Manager David Hudspeth, Carolina Panthers Chief Operating Officer Mark Hart requested the county offer to help Rock Hill.

"We are concerned that without County assistance, the city will not secure the $225,000,000 of bond proceeds," Hart wrote in May 2021.

Hart said the bonds were initially supposed to be issued by October 31, 2020, but the deadline was later pushed back to February 26, 2021.

Following receipt of that letter, York County Council Chairwoman Christi Cox said she reached out to the city, with no initial response.

"Should the City ask for assistance, we would certainly review any specific request made by its leaders and determine whether it is in best interest of York County taxpayers," she said in a statement at the time. "Absent such a request, however, there is nothing for county leaders to discuss."

York County Councilmember William "Bump" Roddey told WCNC Charlotte, even though the city hasn't requested help, the county needs to get involved.

"We were told by everyone involved, except the Panthers, that everything was fine, everything was on track," Roddey said. "We're not a part of that agreement so we were not allowed to step in, but now it's come to the point that we've got to do something."

Roddey wants to avoid any possible lawsuit.

"We have to make sure that we don't face any kind of possible litigation on behalf of the Panthers deal failing, because the taxpayers will ultimately be responsible for paying whatever damages to the Panthers if we don't fix this," he said.

Roddey believes Rock Hill overextended itself.

"Well, it's been no secret for several years that Rock Hill has done a lot of great things in this community, and those great things come with a cost. And those things come with adding more liabilities to the bottom line," he said. 

"We can't overextend ourselves," he continued. "I think this deal happened right at a time when Rock Hill was stretched thin financially, and wasn't able to secure what the Panthers thought they were needing to get in those time increments."

As a county councilmember, Roddey hopes unity can solve the problem.

"It's nothing that we can't come together as a county, as a city and as a school district to figure this thing out, because this is the biggest deal to hit the state of South Carolina bar none in many, many years."

A Tepper Sports & Entertainment statement released Monday revealed Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has invested $170 million in the project so far.

“Our partners have been unable to contribute the agreed upon investment to fund the construction of the public infrastructure,” the statement read. “Given the economic realities, the difficult but prudent decision has been made to pause the project. The ongoing work will continue with our partners to find an economically acceptable solution for all parties to continue this project in Rock Hill.”

A source familiar with the situation previously told WCNC Charlotte Tepper Sports has been "unable to gain the funding" related to infrastructure such as roads, power, sewage and water.

The city of Rock Hill maintains the agency has met its financial obligations to the project.

"We've met all of our obligations required under our agreement," Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys told WCNC Charlotte's Indira Eskieva Monday. "I'm not aware of anything that we feel like we didn't do right or didn't perform."

WCNC Charlotte has requested comment about the status of bonds from the mayor, every city council member and the city attorney, but has not yet received a response.

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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