Jun 5, 2024 - News

Charlotte business leaders champion Bank of America Stadium renovations

Charlotte business leaders advocate for Bank of America Stadium renovations in Uptown.

Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Charlotte sports and business leaders threw their weight behind proposed Bank of America Stadium renovations Wednesday morning at a press conference at Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Why it matters: Projects of this magnitude often come with an ask for significant public investment. But economists and business leaders have differing opinions on the return on investment of publicly funded stadiums.

Catch up quick: Stadium renovations would run from 2025-2029 and cost roughly $800 million. The deal would also keep the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC, owned by Tepper Sports & Entertainment, here through 2045.

By the numbers: TSE is asking for $650 million in taxpayer money from the city of Charlotte. These funds would come from the city's hospitality and tourism tax, which legally must be used on projects that generate tourism dollars.

  • Total stadium investment would be $1.3 billion. That includes from when David Tepper purchased the team in 2018 through 2045. TSE's contribution would be $688 million.
  • The city's contribution is capped. TSE would cover any overrun.

What they're saying: "Now is not the time to go scared of being a big-league city," said Johnny Harris, a longtime prominent Charlotte developer and president of Quail Hollow Club where the PGA Championship will take place in 2025.

  • "This is a deal we can't afford to turn down," Harris added.

The intrigue: Academic research shows that direct economic benefits from using public funds to build new stadiums or pay for major renovations are "really quite limited," Davidson College economics professor Fred Smith tells Axios.

  • "From a direct economic benefit standpoint, it's very unlikely to produce the results that you're going to hear pitched," Smith adds.

The other side: "I'm very surprised when I hear academic economists talking about this, saying 'this may not be a good investment.' I don't think they're talking to business owners," Vinay Patel, chair of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said Wednesday morning.

  • He says his two Uptown hotels were sold out Saturday night when George Strait and Chris Stapleton performed at Bank of America Stadium, and they were charging more than $300 per night for rooms.
  • "The impact of events that happen there are enormous," Patel tells Axios. When events take place at the stadium and at Spectrum Center, which is also undergoing renovations, Patel says his businesses enjoy a boost.

Between the lines: The stadium provides intangible benefits, or what economists call the "water cooler effect," Smith says. Those are difficult to put a price tag on.

  • "The basic idea behind this is that professional teams, like the Carolina Panthers or the Hornets, they're providing benefits to the community in a way that not everyone's necessarily directly paying for," Smith says.

Yes, but: People who couldn't point to Charlotte on a map know about the city because of its sports teams. But sports alone aren't responsible for drawing major employers to the city.

  • Charlotte is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, including Bank of America, which extended its naming rights to the stadium last year.
  • "Bank of America Stadium has become really a community destination," Kieth Cockrell, president of Bank of America Charlotte, said Wednesday.

Zoom out: Cockrell is in a unique position, not only as a major executive of TSE's stadium sponsor but as the father of a son who played football in that NFL stadium for the Panthers.

  • "Like any parent, I can recall the first time that my son was in the building," Cockrell says.
  • In addition to soccer games and concerts, Bank of America Stadium is also hosting more high school sports, getting more young people into the building and giving them the "ability to dream," Cockrell says.

What's next: A stadium vote from city council is expected on June 24. Public input about the project can be provided here.

Go deeper: Fresh renderings: Bank of America Stadium's $800M makeover

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