Carolina Panthers are coming to South Carolina
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday touted the benefits of moving the Carolina Panthers’ practice facility and headquarters to Rock Hill at a meeting in an unlikely place: Charlotte.
Speaking at a summit on transportation and congestion in south Charlotte, McMaster said the Panthers could be the center of a thriving new development. He also said the team could be the impetus for developing a new light rail line from Rock Hill to Charlotte, connecting the two states and team facilities.
“If we can put light rail in there, that would be a model, I think, for the rest of the country,” said McMaster. He said Atrium Health has expressed interest in being part of a new development anchored by the team’s practice facility and headquarters. Such a development could also include retail and a convention center.
Panthers owner David Tepper and team officials met with McMaster and top South Carolina officials at the governor’s mansion two weeks ago. State legislative leaders are fast-tracking legislation that would make the Panthers eligible for tax breaks, as well as avoid paying city taxes and business license fees. That legislation is set to be debated this week.
North Carolina officials have said they would like to see the Panthers keep their facilities in Charlotte. But offering an existing business in the state incentives — when they’re not planning to expand their workforce — is trickier than luring a new company from out of state, and officials haven’t detailed their plans.
McMaster said discussions are underway about light rail connecting to the new Panthers facility, as well as upgrades to the Interstate 77 corridor.
“Light rail between Rock Hill and Charlotte, that would just be terrific,” said McMaster. “It’s a great idea, a great opportunity to showcase a bi-state project.”
He was optimistic about the chances. But such a light rail project would likely cost billions and require cooperation across state lines.
“We just have to work through the obstacles. There won’t be many,” said McMaster. “One of them will be money, and I think we can do it.”
Speaking with reporters outside the South Charlotte Partners inaugural Regional Transportation Summit, McMaster also lavished praise on Tepper.
“He’s a terrific man,” said McMaster. “It’s always a pleasure to envision big things with great people and see them come to fruition. And I think this is one that’s going to happen.”
McMaster said that he started talking with Tepper last fall, after Charlotte-based developer Stephen Rosenburgh introduced them. McMaster’s chief of staff met with Tepper, who invited them to his box for a Panthers game.
“I promise you, that was a treat, being in the box with Mr. Tepper,” said McMaster. “We loved it.”
After that, McMaster said, “One thing led to another.”
The current deal that’s under discussion doesn’t include moving the Panthers out of Bank of America Stadium, where they’ve played since their second season. McMaster demurred when asked if making a play for the Panthers’ actual stadium at some point in the future.
“I see this as the beginning of a beautiful relationship between our two states,” he said.