In a sudden major move, GT Real Estate Holdings — the real estate company of Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper— announced on April 19, 2022, that the company had terminated its agreement with the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina for the construction of the NFL team’s new headquarters and practice facility — leaving the future of the $800 million project up in the air.
Just over a month prior, in March 2022, Tepper had announced that work on the project would indefinitely pause after conflict with Rock Hill officials over previously agreed-upon funding contributions.
However, there may have been more to the situation than it seemed at the time: According to a company statement, the two sides negotiated over funding for over a year before GT Real Estate apparently warned the city that they would terminate the agreement if the two sides couldn’t fix their differences within 30 days.
“Despite our persistent efforts throughout 2021, the City of Rock Hill failed to issue the bonds or provide the funding for the public infrastructure for the project. On March 18, 2022, GTRE issued a default notice and the City did not cure its default within the prescribed 30-day cure period,” said GT Real Estate’s statement. “It is unfortunate that some recently decided to conduct a misguided, destructive public relations campaign to obscure their failures.”
The city of Rock Hill responded in kind, claiming in its own statement that “The City met all obligations required under the agreements. The City did not commit to provide unlimited City backstop, but instead agreed to use its best reasonable efforts to issue bonds to be repaid by the increase in the tax revenues generated from development of the site which protects the City’s taxpayers and the City’s favorable financial position.”
The path forward for all parties will be especially interesting for those involved in the project’s construction.
The project’s contractors and laborers had their wages extended a week past the original work stoppage, but that period ended on March 14, 2022 — leaving these companies and their workers with nothing to turn to at the moment.
Of course, individual payment problems may arise.
“The portion [of construction that GT Real Estate has already funded] can be subject to mechanics liens (or bond claims),” says construction lawyer Alex Benarroche. Even though it’s not completely clear if the project will continue in some way or if it will truly be terminated, he added that “termination clauses should be reviewed in case the project is indeed ultimately scrapped.”
It’s safe to assume that the Panthers will look towards some way forward with the Rock Hill facility, regardless of the status of the agreement with the city. A report from the National Football League office noted that Tepper has already invested more than $175 million in the construction of the project, which has been in progress since 2020.
However, any path forward already on the table won’t include the City of Rock Hill directly. York County, South Carolina officials offered what they called an “alternative financial package” to Tepper at the end of March 2022, hoping that the county might be able to salvage the project in areas where the city couldn’t.
A statement from the county noted that its plan “requires no borrowing from any local government. Instead it requires the Carolina Panthers to fund infrastructure upfront for construction of the headquarters and practice facility.” Rather than offer up-front funding, the plan instead “[offers] the Panthers special source revenue credits, paying the Panthers back through tax credits” — a drastically different offer than the direct infrastructure funding the team had been hoping to receive.
With construction stopped for the foreseeable future, only time will tell if the involved parties can salvage the situation.