After the development of a new Carolina Panthers headquarters and training facility was officially canceled in June 2022, a dispute has grown between the developing company, GT Real Estate, and joint venture contractor Mascaro/Barton Malow, which claims that it is owed $80 million as part of the case.
However, the claim isn’t that GT Real Estate (GTRE) — which filed for bankruptcy in June — should be responsible for paying: It’s that the Carolina Panthers could be.
David Tepper and GT Real Estate broke their agreement to build a new facility for the Carolina Panthers in Rock Hill, South Carolina in April 2022 after they had originally paused the $800 million project the previous month. This was followed by GT Real Estate filing for bankruptcy just a few months later in June.
However, there’s some concern from the involved parties that, allegedly, the bankruptcy is a way of removing the financial connection between the project and the Panthers organization — and potentially getting Tepper out of paying the full amount of his financial obligations to contractors. Mascaro/Barton Malow is far from the only construction business who is still seeking payment on work completed on the Rock Hill facility.
“Virtually every aspect of this case is tainted by the control of [team owner David] Tepper and the Carolina Panthers,” lawyers for Mascaro/Barton Malow wrote in a motion opposing a proposed loan to GT Real Estate from a Tepper-controlled entity. Lawyer Michael Roeschenthaler added that “This is one of the most incestuous cases I’ve ever been involved with or heard of.”
The motion added the claim that there is a “murky and suspicious structure that is the Debtor/Tepper/Carolina Panthers enterprise,” maintaining that the team may allegedly be skirting financial obligations.
The project’s cancelation already had enough of a negative impact on contractors before this dispute began, with Glenn Sherill, owner of project subcontractor SteelFab, stating that the project was already becoming a “financial loser” for the company.
“It’s hard to quantify what this did to our company but the disruption is significant,” Sherill added. Bankruptcy records note that the company claims it is owed $4.6 million for work already done.
Project contractors are seeing the dispute as an example of Tepper’s “unwillingness to pay his bills,” as Sherill said, and they’re careful to note that GT Real Estate’s nonpayment has a big impact on their maintaining profitability. “It definitely flows down a long way,” said Blythe Development Vice President of Operations Luke Blythe, whose company is reportedly owed $2.6 million. “It’s not just a matter of us not getting paid. It affects companies and families.”
Bankruptcy attorney Zev Schectman noted that Tepper’s move publicly projects an image that may concern the NFL: “In the vein of, you know, Donald Trump and (Frank) McCourt, who filed and put the Dodgers into bankruptcy and various other billionaires, putting their companies in bankruptcy, this is just something that they get to do without having to experience any personal repercussions if they do it right.”
In June 2022, the NFL noted that it didn’t expect any problems with the legal status of the project. “GTRE is not part of the club’s corporate ownership group,” said an NFL spokesperson at the time. “GTRE does not own any football-related assets, nor have any football-related assets been pledged in any way toward the costs incurred to date or any remaining obligations.”
As The Athletic points out, this is a difficult position for Mascaro/Barton Malow to be in, as the NFL has a number of financial rules in place that work to keep teams from getting caught up in these types of disputes. If the contractor’s claims are verified, it could have a big impact on the security of their payment given GT Real Estate’s bankruptcy filing.
The future of the former Rock Hill project may be truly going nowhere regardless of what happens with this dispute. A filing from GT Real Estate chief restructuring officer Jonathan Hickman said that the company “has begun to consider various alternatives for a value-maximizing transaction, including a potential sale … [and] the redevelopment of the project site.”
Regardless of exactly how the situation plays out, the project’s contractors are simply hoping that they get paid soon — regardless of which Tepper-controlled entity is writing the checks.
“I never dreamed there could be a chance of [Tepper] shutting the job down and then not paying us,” Sherrill said. “Paying his bills is not a problem if he wanted to do the right thing.”
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