ROCK HILL, S.C. — York County officials filed a lawsuit this week against several of Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper's companies and the city of Rock Hill over the team's now-dead training facility, calling it a "failed vanity project."
The lawsuit alleges that Appaloosa Management, LP, DT Sports Holding, LLC, and Tepper Sports Holding Inc., misappropriated $21 million of public funding on the failed project. The suit states the money was specifically allocated for road expansion related to the project but that "rather than covering the ballooning project budget themselves, the Tepper defendants took money from York County and its taxpayers."
“The water gets real muddy down at the bottom, and I think this is where we are at," York County councilmember William "Bump" Roddey said. "We’re at the lowest point at this agreement.”
Earlier this month, York County issued a statement saying it expected to receive that $21 million plus interest, saying it was designated for the expansion of Mt. Gallant Road.
The lawsuit also blames the city of Rock Hill for failing to issue the required bonds, leading to the project's failure. The suit states this led to Tepper and Rock Hill pointing fingers over whose fault it was, harming York County and its taxpayers.
In a statement, the City of Rock Hill issued a sharp rebuttal to the lawsuit:
"The County has needlessly and recklessly commenced a frivolous lawsuit against the City. Time will reveal that this lawsuit was a colossal waste of public money. We reiterate the City has not breached any contract involving the Panther’s project and remains eager to present the facts in any forum against any party desiring an adversarial posture with the City.
The County’s current lawsuit is both unfortunate and baseless. The City certainly did not cause the County to turn over $21 million to the Panthers to complete a Pennies for Progress project. The City has offered to work side-by-side with the County to protect the interests of our citizens. The City has previously offered to conference with the County’s lawyers and provide the factual foundation showing the City is not in breach of any agreement. That the County commenced this lawsuit against the City without carefully examining these facts is disturbing and revealing as to the County’s priorities and agenda. Every City resident is a County taxpayer. We feel strongly that the City and County should be working arm-in-arm to ensure that the taxpayers in the City and County are best protected. Apparently, a majority of the York County Council do not agree, which is regrettable.
As communicated previously, the City will not litigate any legal dispute through back-and-forth media exchanges and will have no further comment on this matter."
The lawsuit seeks the full $21 million from Tepper's companies, plus any increased construction costs related to the Mt. Gallant expansion. The suit also seeks lost tax revenue that would've been generated by the training facility.
"The Tepper defendants spent the Penny Tax Funds for purposes other than the completion of the Mt. Gallant Project," the lawsuit reads. "Upon information and belief, none of the Penny Tax Funds went to its intended purpose. To date, no progress has been made toward the completion of the Mt. Gallant expanded scope."
South Carolina representative Tommy Pope was one of the state officials fighting to bring the Panthers project to Rock Hill, and like many, he said he is disappointed it ended in a legal fight.
“As a citizen, we were so excited," Pope said. "From a legislative standpoint, we worked hard to do the things we need to do to make it happen."
Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said Thursday that Tepper's company GT Real Estate filed bankruptcy to avoid paying contractors for their labor on the project.
A spokesperson for GT Real Estate declined to comment on this story. Earlier this month, the organization released a statement on the bankruptcy filing which said, "[GT Real Estate] is taking this action to ensure legitimate claims are processed as fairly and expeditiously as possible under a court supervised process, and to achieve the project’s orderly and safe wind-down. GTRE intends to resolve its legitimate obligations.”
According to court paperwork, GT Real Estate owes creditors millions of dollars. Among them is York County, with a claim of $21 million, as well as Mascaro/Barton Malow, a joint venture construction management group over the site project, with a $26 million claim. On the filing paperwork, the city of Rock Hill is listed as a creditor for just over $100 in unpaid utility payments.
“The city of Rock Hill invested $20 million in public infrastructure on the site, so there’s more than $20 million of public infrastructure in the ground on the site,” Gettys said. “So when and if whoever buys that property, they’ll buy that it improved and we’ll make sure the taxpayers get the benefit of the investment they made in the site.”
Gettys said he and the city have not spoken publicly because of active litigation, saying he doesn’t want to say anything more that will undermine litigation strategy.
A spokesperson for GT Real Estate declined comment.