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David Tepper wants $650 million to renovate Panthers’ stadium? Here’s how to handle that

David Tepper is asking for $650 million.

Hat in hand — perhaps even a hat he took off somebody else’s head — Charlotte’s controversial billionaire wants a whole lot of money to upgrade Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte FC and the occasional big-name concert.

Those who read my column know that I am not a big fan of Tepper. We’ve had some well-documented disputes.

But in this case, the wisest course of action is for Charlotte to look past Tepper and to look at the broader picture.

Do you know what would happen if this proposal fails and everything goes sideways? The teams, eventually, will leave. And do you know what everyone will try to do then?

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Get another NFL team. And that would cost in the billions, if it ever happened at all.

The Charlotte city council should vote yes for this proposal June 24, with this caveat. I would try one more time to negotiate at least 3-5 more guaranteed years in Charlotte from the Panthers and Charlotte FC, even if it costs a few more million.

Stadium renovations unveiled Monday by Tepper Sports and Entertainment ask for the city of Charlotte to pitch in $650 million. This rendering shows the “south lawn” after renderings are complete.
Stadium renovations unveiled Monday by Tepper Sports and Entertainment ask for the city of Charlotte to pitch in $650 million. This rendering shows the “south lawn” after renderings are complete.

Those two teams, under the current proposal, could get out of this deal after 2039 and move elsewhere. Fifteen years is too short of an invisible string tying the teams and the city together. Even though the deal is often presented as a 20-year non-relocation that would take it through 2044, in reality it could be bought out after 15 years for a figure I’ve heard would come to several hundred million dollars. Not insubstantial, but easily affordable for Tepper, who’s worth roughly $20 billion.

Other public-private partnerships around the country have ended up with 30-year non-relocation deals — often for more public money, yes, but also for a better guarantee that the teams in question aren’t going anywhere.

Now I know that there are a lot of people who think Tepper should pay for absolutely everything (and he will make a contribution of hundreds of millions, according to the proposal). The hundreds of online comments from taxpayers that the city of Charlotte have collected are about 85% against the proposal, by my unofficial count, with much of the negative reaction encapsulated in one respondent’s phrase: “Let the billionaire upgrade his toys with his own money.”

But despite the too-short tether, Tepper Sports & Entertainment’s stadium proposal actually has a lot going for it. No roof on the stadium, for instance. Some people like the idea. I never have. To me, a roof is an unnecessary boondoggle that costs $400 million and would be difficult to retrofit.

OK, so maybe it gets you one Super Bowl? One Final Four? Possibly? Not a good tradeoff.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, left, speaks with cornerback Jaycee Horn prior to the Jan. 7, 2024 game against Tampa Bay. Tepper is asking the City of Charlotte to contribute $650 million for Bank of America Stadium upgrades
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, left, speaks with cornerback Jaycee Horn prior to the Jan. 7, 2024 game against Tampa Bay. Tepper is asking the City of Charlotte to contribute $650 million for Bank of America Stadium upgrades

And I’m glad no one is proposing an entirely new stadium, either. The Atlanta Falcons opened a stadium around the same time as Bank of America Stadium (which opened in 1996) and have already had it demolished and opened another.

A new stadium in Charlotte would cost around $3 billion — maybe more — which makes $650 million look relatively cheap. Maybe a new stadium happens in 20 years, when this stadium is nearing its 50th birthday, but it certainly doesn’t need to happen now.

It doesn’t matter who owns the stadium and the team. It could be owned by the late great, Mr. Rogers, and this “ask” was still coming. This is what sports owners do when they have a good bit of leverage, as the Panthers do. Did you know they technically could leave the city at any time if they wanted to? The last agreement expired in 2023. There has been no indication that would happen, and TSE has plowed money into some stadium renovations and the new practice fields already. Still, it’s a fact.

What makes this request more problematic is Tepper threw a drink toward some fans in Jacksonville’s EverBank Stadium, and he angered a lot of people in Rock Hill when he pulled out of a practice facility deal that went embarrassingly wrong, and a number of high-profile executives have left TSE under mysterious circumstances, and he’s had seven NFL head coaches (including interims) in only six NFL seasons and, worst of all, the Panthers haven’t had a winning season or made the playoffs since Tepper bought them in 2018.

I’ve called all of this InTeptitude, and I keep campaigning to Webster’s to make that a real word.

A lot of people have plunked down a lot of money to watch bad football over the past six years, and all of that makes fans a lot less inclined to just give the Panthers whatever they want. This would have been a nice request to make the month after a playoff run, but who knows how long that would have taken.

This rendering shows proposed renovations to the 500 level at Bank of America Stadium, which would involved $650 million in money from the city of Charlotte.
This rendering shows proposed renovations to the 500 level at Bank of America Stadium, which would involved $650 million in money from the city of Charlotte.

It has been wise for Tepper to stay in the background and let the executive team directly under him be the faces of this proposal. Tepper has gotten a lot of advice — including in this corner — to stay out of the fray more often because he’s hurt himself and his reputation in Charlotte several times when he wades in. Let the coaches coach and the GMs draft. Let the team execs do the stadium deal. He’s doing all that now, for the moment, and the proposal likely has a better chance to pass because of it.

As long as Tepper isn’t caught on camera tearing the letters off the Dilworth Neighborhood Grille marquee in the next week, I think the proposal will pass. Not unanimously. But it will pass.

And it should pass. The money will come from the city’s hospitality and tourism taxes, which are narrowly tailored to be used for projects like this. So saying the $650 million should go to teacher raises for instance — that sounds like a completely worthy cause, and it is. But in this case those raises have to come from another pot.

And if it makes you feel any better, no one is writing a check to David Tepper. The money goes to builders who will be contracted to change out all the seats in the stadium, upgrade the security, buy new video boards and improve that loud, distorted sound system that should have screeched its way into oblivion long ago.

I know it doesn’t feel great to give Tepper anything, especially when he’s never given the city a winning team. Well, he did give us a Charlotte FC squad that made the playoffs, then immediately fired the head coach. (He did give us the gift of music, though, don’t forget that.)

But as much as you may not like it, Charlotte, this needs to be done.

Hold your nose if you have to. And do it.