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Charlotteans ante up for billionaire NFL owner’s stadium

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(The Center Square) – Taxpayer money controlled by a North Carolina city council will fund roughly half of the $1.2 billion renovation sought for the stadium of a billionaire NFL owner.

Charlotte City Council approved a proposal by a 7-3 vote to allocate $650 million to the project for David Tepper and his companies. Tepper, the 94th richest person on the planet at $20.6 billion net worth according to Forbes, owns the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte FC of Major League Soccer and Tepper Sports & Entertainment among many in his stable of enterprises.

Tepper Sports & Entertainment will be in contract with the city and plans to spend $688 million on the renovation. It’s not the first time Tepper has sought to do a deal with a government entity. He envisioned the team practicing and having headquarters in adjacent Rock Hill, S.C., and struck a deal upon which he ultimately reneged. His GT Real Estate Holdings company paid the city $20 million to settle lawsuits in November 2022.

Details of the stadium renovation proposal from the entertainment company became public earlier this month and jettisoned through city leaders a mere three weeks later. The renovations are expected to be complete in time for the start of the 2029 season.

A commitment from the team is to remain in Charlotte for the next 20 years.

In a statement Monday evening, Tepper said the result is a shared vision for 74,867-capacity Bank of America Stadium. The financial institution began its naming rights agreement in 2004 when the late Jerry Richardson owned the team, and in December extended the initial 20-year pact.

Length and fiscal terms were not announced. The previous contract value was estimated at $7 million annually. Naming rights to NFL stadiums have risen 81% in the last decade.

Tepper bought the Panthers in July 2018 for $2.2 billion. Estimated value today is $4.1 billion.

The team, in the playoffs four of the five seasons before his purchase, has had a losing season each year since, with 10 or more losses in all but one of the six seasons. Tepper made his fortune managing the hedge fund company Appaloosa Management he founded in 1993.

Hedge funds bring together private investors, usually wealthy, to pool money and use strategies with higher risk that can outperform average market returns. The Panthers, at Labor Day last year, were 26th of 32 teams in estimated value and about $1 billion below the NFL average.

The funds from the city for the renovation come from a 1% prepared food and drink tax in the Charlotte and Mecklenburg County area that was created to pay off bonds on the city’s convention center but also is available to fund renovations at the stadium.

While advocates tout a restaurant tax as a tax on tourism, economists believe that all taxes are similar and impact regular taxpayers since, without the tax capture for the stadium and convention center, that funding would go to the city, state or county general fund.

“Those revenue sources are unconnected to the stadium and have no business being taxed to pay for a private venture that generates revenue for one of wealthiest individuals in town,” Economist J.C. Bradbury of Kennesaw State University in Georgia told The Center Square when the funding was first discussed.

While City Council member Tariq Bokhari said he expected an explosion of economic activity after the renovation, Bradbury says that stadiums have been studied for years and that has never occurred.

“It blows my mind that anyone could buy into the argument that renovating the existing venue of a team that is not threatening to leave (and has nowhere to go) and serves almost entirely local customers will have a large positive economic impact on the community,” Bradbury said Tuesday. “Makes no sense.”

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