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David Tepper, Rock Hill leaders reach $20 million settlement over failed Panthers HQ

If approved by a judge, the city of Rock Hill and David Tepper's real estate company will drop lawsuits against each other as part of a $20 million settlement.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The city of Rock Hill and GT Real Estate, a company created by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, tentatively agreed to a $20 million settlement over the team's failed headquarters and training facility in South Carolina, court documents show. 

On Wednesday, a judge ruled to hold confirmation hearings mid-December, despite objections from York County’s attorneys. This means David Tepper’s GT Real Estate bankruptcy case over the failed Panthers headquarter project in Rock Hill could be decided by the end of the year.

While the City of Rock Hill has reached an agreement with GT Real Estate in the bankruptcy case, York County has not. At a hearing on Wednesday, York County’s attorneys asked a judge to push the confirmation hearing until next year so it could have more time to build its case.  

After arguments from GT Real Estate attorneys that doing so could de-rail the bankruptcy case and keep contractors from getting paid by the end of this year, the judge ruled to keep the confirmation hearings for December 14th.  

GT Real Estate's attorneys said reaching a settlement with Rock Hill is a massive step forward in the case. Attorneys for contractors said in today’s hearing they hope they can get paid by the end of the year, which would allow them to pay subcontractors. 

The settlement, which a Delaware bankruptcy judge must approve, requires Rock Hill and GT Real Estate to drop lawsuits against each other related to the project. 

The new agreement also sheds light on the future of the 240-acre site, where Tepper started but never finished the team’s headquarters. South Carolina State Rep. Gary Simrill (R) played a pivotal role in the early days of the project, and he said the agreement is a step in the right direction.

“The infrastructure is in place, the interchange is in place, and now the development has to come, and for the development to come, there has to be a settlement with GTRE. and the land has to be sold," Rep. Simrill said. 

WCNC Charlotte asked South Carolina bankruptcy attorney Mandy Powers Norrell to look over the agreement filed in court. She is not involved in the litigation.

She said, as part of the agreement, the city of Rock Hill will take over the 240-acre project site that’s currently owned by GTRE. In turn, the site will be sold and, after claims are paid off, Rock Hill will get to keep $20 million from the sale.

“So this can result in not only things moving faster in terms of the litigation, but also getting the property sold faster because this clears the way for the sale of the property and that clears the way for everyone to get paid," Powers Norrell explained. 

Powers Norrell said the city of Rock Hill wouldn’t agree to the deal if it were not confident it could get its $20 million. The site was officially listed for sale in early October. Simrill said there’s already interest.

“I know there’s interest," Rep. Simrill said. "It’s obviously listed. I know there is interest that has peaked in that property – and why wouldn’t it be? Look at where we are, close to Charlotte obviously. You’ve got over a mile of interstate frontage along I-77 – it is ripe for quality development."

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A confirmation hearing for the bankruptcy is scheduled for Wednesday. Rock Hill leaders must vote to approve the bankruptcy as part of the settlement, according to the filing. The latest filing does not include York County, which has also filed suit claiming to be owed more than $81 million. In June 2022, York County officials called the facility a "failed vanity project."

Both parties publicly pointed the finger at each other over the project's failure, with a Rock Hill lawsuit accusing GTRE of fraud, saying "the circumstances surrounding [GT Real Estate's] breach as described herein demonstrate that [GT Real Estate had fraudulent intent." 

A GTRE spokesperson declined WCNC Charlotte's request for comment on the settlement. Katie Quinn, a spokesperson for the city of Rock Hill, issued a brief statement regarding the proposed settlement: 

"The City of Rock Hill is confident this matter will be appropriately handled in the Court. Accordingly, at this time, we will refrain from any discussion or comment pending plan confirmation." 

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In September, Tepper's company withdrew a proposal to sell the property with plans to give the city of Rock Hill at least $20 million and York County $21 million. GTRE said at the time it set aside $60 million for contractors to make claims for their share in the bankruptcy settlement. 

The 240-acre site, which sits just off I-77, includes the nearly 6,000-square-foot building. It's listed as a mixed-use development. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said there was interest from "major real estate companies" about the property. 

“We have a new interchange being built there. The property is excellent for development. It’s in an absolutely perfect place," McMaster said. "I think in the end we’re going to be just fine. We hate to have missed this opportunity, for whatever reason.”

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

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