Politics & Government

SC counties could benefit from Carolina Panthers move to SC

South Carolina counties with the weakest economies could benefit from a deal S.C. lawmakers struck Thursday aimed at enticing the Carolina Panthers to move its headquarters across the state line and into Rock Hill.

A panel of six lawmakers, tasked with finalizing details of a deal to offer the NFL team roughly $115 million in tax breaks over 15 years to move to South Carolina, agreed to add to the deal a provision that would make companies eligible for more tax credits if they locate in S.C. counties with the lowest incomes and highest unemployment rates.

Those tax breaks would not kick in until the team’s S.C. operations are up and running in the second year, and until the team relocates to South Carolina at least 150 of its full-time employees — with a payroll of $190 million — who must get a benefits package, including health care.

With the bill’s negotiations complete, lawmakers said they expect the legislation to fly through the House and Senate.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has been pushing the Panthers incentives, is expected to sign the bill into law.

Lawmakers supporting the deal say it’s a win-win for South Carolina and a “boon” for Rock Hill, a half-hour car ride from Charlotte.

“It has a huge benefit to the coffers of South Carolina,” said House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, who co-chaired Thursday’s committee meeting on the bill. “What it does is give us more opportunity to take care of employees of the state and the needs of South Carolina. It is a financial boon. It is an emblematic win.”

The deal has had loud critics, too.

After Thursday’s deal was struck, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who opposed the deal, tweeted, “There are enough legislative buy-offs in here to make Congress blush,” referring to the provision tacked on to the legislation.

Though state Sen. Dick Harpootlian voted for the deal Thursday, the Richland Democrat said he plans to vote against the bill next week.

Harpootlian — who helped push the Senate’s vote on the proposal to the final day of session — has railed against the legislation for weeks, arguing state commerce leaders have exaggerated the economic impact of the Panthers deal for the state.

“Maybe I can persuade somebody it’s a bad deal, but I doubt it. I can’t think of anything that would derail it at this point. Not me.”

The bill’s supporters said Thursday that adding a provision to offer more tax breaks for companies that locate in some of the state’s high-poverty counties should help move some of the bill’s critics — particularly in the Senate — off the fence to vote for it.

Simrill said Thursday he would have preferred lawmakers consider the add-on for rural communities in separate legislation, not tacked on to a bill to bring the Panthers to South Carolina. But, he added, he understood why the proposal was attached to the Panthers bill and pushed by state Sen. Wes Climer, R-York, who also sat at the negotiation table Thursday.

It’s the “shepherds hook to get your flock in line,” Simrill said, referring to the Senate.

Panthers aim to break ground this year

David Tepper, the Panthers’ billionaire owner, has set his sights on about 200 acres of land in York County to relocate his team’s operations and open up two practice facilities, including an indoor one with up to 10,000 seats. A site map shows the property lies off Interstate 77, between Dave Lyle Boulevard and Eden Terrace.

Team officials want the complex to be similar to sports sites in other states, including the Dallas Cowboys’ The Star in Frisco, Texas, which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants and other amenities outside of the football complex.

Beyond football headquarters, team officials also have told The State the site would include a sports medicine complex.

The team has not announced a partner for the facility, but representatives with Charlotte’s Atrium Health attended a meeting in March between Panthers’ officials, including Tepper, Gov. McMaster and a handful of other state leaders.

The property’s construction also is slated to include a new $40 million interchange to provide access to the complex. It is estimated that the federal government would chip in about $20 million for that project. The state would cover $12.5 million of the cost, and the city of Rock Hill would kick in the rest: $7.5 million.

The Panthers want to break ground later this year and move into the complex by early 2022.

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.
Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.