Jun 11, 2024 - News

Charlotte residents rip apart plans for Bank of America Stadium overhaul

rendering of outside of stadium with large video screen

This rendering outside Bank of America Stadium shows the proposed video board. Rendering: Courtesy of Tepper Sports & Entertainment

The optics of using public funds to renovate a private football stadium in Charlotte aren't good right now, as evident from hundreds of online comments recently submitted to the city.

Why it matters: Charlotte's tourism and business leaders have voiced staunch support for plans to overhaul Bank of America Stadium using taxpayer dollars. But Charlotte citizens are slamming the project.

What they're saying: Locals are concerned about the city contributing $650 million to the stadium makeover as property taxes are rising, inflation is up and the region is seemingly behind on building infrastructure.

  • On top of that, the Carolina Panthers are a losing team. Owner David Tepper has many critics and a string of controversies.

Zoom in: The stadium renovation plan includes new seating, a lawn pavilion, video and audio systems, upgraded bathrooms, redesigned concourses, modernized lighting, and modernized plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, among other improvements.

Driving the news: City leaders are pushing to have the funding contribution approved by June 24, three weeks after the first public discussion on the project.

  • A minority of council members are asking city staff to organize an in-person public hearing before then.

Axios obtained a copy of the 450-plus submitted comments. Here are some recurring themes we noticed. Quotes are edited slightly for grammar and clarity.

"NEEDs a dome."

  • "For that price, we want a DOME! Shade from the brutal sun + a chance to host the Super Bowl."
  • "A roof or half roof would allow the city to host way more events!"
  • "Put a roof on the stadium and actually make it better instead of this weak attempt at changing the stadium."

Reality check: Adding a roof to the stadium would cost hundreds of millions, assistant city manager Tracy Dodson says.

"More for soccer."

  • "PLEASE include more CLTFC logos on the exterior and scoreboards so CLTFC doesn't feel so much like a subtenant of the Panthers' home."
  • "Include a clause to replace the turf surface with a natural surface. It will reduce injury risk, and be all around better for both sports, especially soccer, to potentially draw more International competitions."
  • "If Charlotte FC is going to be a tenant of this stadium then there needs to be more done to make this stadium appeal to soccer fans. The building needs a partial roof, a safe standing section for supporters, TIFO rigging, and improved corridors."

"No one wants a giant screen."

Many respondents were against putting a video board on the exterior of the stadium.

  • "The outward-facing screen is a waste of public resources, both via construction and via the perpetual electricity fees to keep it running at all times."
  • "If we as a city are going to cut 'unnecessary' spending from our annual budget then surely we can also take the same comb to the stadium proposal."

"Renovate the team first."

  • "I'd like to see at least ONE winning season for the Panthers before supporting any renovations."
  • "[W]ill it generate new economic growth? No. The Panthers are not a new franchise, and renovations to a stadium are not going to suddenly bring in new people."
  • "Here is an idea. You make him pay for the whole stadium and if the Panthers ever win a game, he gets a kickback, make him actually earn this stadium."
  • "Let's acknowledge the fact the team in the stadium has needed upgrades for years with no results. In a time of inflation that has been more extreme than ever before, you're asking fans to potentially fork over more money for the same product. Give me a competitive product (and) we can talk."

The renovation deal includes a term that the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC cannot leave Charlotte for 20 years. Many respondents thought that was too short, or that Tepper would relocate anyway.

  • "For this amount of money, we need a longer guarantee that they will stay AND stiffer penalties for breaking that promise."
  • "Dare him to name a bigger city that doesn't have a football team and whose taxpayers are willing to pay $2 billion-plus for a 'state-of-the-art' stadium for a team whose owner has demonstrated after five years in power that he doesn't know how to run a successful franchise."

"Handout to Tepper."

Some respondents were concerned about the city's share. The city is looking to reimburse $650 million for contractor work of a $800 million overhaul. The team plans to invest an additional $421 million over the deal's life.

  • "TSE should pay a higher portion of the overall costs. That includes a higher portion of the proposed $650 million and all the future maintenance and facilities costs."
  • "Tepper should front more of the cost (75% seems right)."

"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

Many distrust Tepper since 2022, when his organization abruptly terminated a deal to move the Panthers headquarters to Rock Hill, S.C. mid-construction.

  • "After the fiasco of the previously planned practice facility in Rock Hill, WHY, I repeat, WHY, would the City of Charlotte consider jumping into a deal with Tepper????"

Council member Dimple Ajmera referred to Tepper's "history of not following through on other deals" as "the elephant in the room" during Monday's meeting.

  • David Abrams of Inner Circle Sports, a sports-centric financial services firm, assured her legal agreements would protect both parties.

"Have a shred of imagination"

Most respondents wanted the city to spend the $650 million on other needs, especially since Panthers tickets can be unaffordable.

  • City leaders have repeatedly stated that the funds would come from sales taxes for hotel rooms and restaurants. Those are legally required to be spent on projects supporting the city's tourism economy.

But some commenters suggest council members should have the political will to widen that definition. The list of possibilities included:

  • Other tourist attractions, including parks, museums ("that FAMILIES can actually afford to go to"), Discovery Place, an aquarium and amateur sports facilities.
  • Public transportation, specifically the Silver Line to the airport: "That will enhance tourism here."
  • Boosting the arts scene.
  • Improving Uptown: "There are homeless people everywhere and during the week the area is not lively. How will the community benefit from a giant electronic scoreboard?"

There were also many comments on how the money should go toward Animal Care and Control, which has euthanized hundreds of dogs in recent years because it lacks space.

The other side: There were proponents scattered throughout the comments.

  • "Every game I've been to, there's been a HUGE line at the team store that's not even worth going in, so to hear one of the plans is to increase the size of the team store is great!!"
  • "The Panthers helped put Charlotte on the map."
  • "I am all for these upgrades … I love the fact that the stadium now hosts concerts."
  • "Bank of America Stadium desperately needs a facelift of at least upgrades of SOME kind. The sound system is awful, the stadium is showing its age, and Panthers players have talked about how bad the facilities are."

What's next: Charlotte City Council's Jobs and Economic Development Committee meets Wednesday to continue talks on the improvements project.

  • If a vote doesn't happen on June 24, construction may be delayed, Dodson says.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Charlotte.

More Charlotte stories