The Panthers have agreed to scale back their stadium renovation plans in order to cut a deal with the city that would pump $87.5 million toward the project. In exchange, Charlotte would be guaranteed to keep the NFL team for at least six years.
A "tether" is what Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble calls that guarantee.
"That's predominately what this negotiation is about – public dollars in return for a contractual agreement that binds the Panthers to Charlotte for as long as we can bind them to Charlotte," said Kimble during a presentation to the Charlotte City Council's Economic Development Committee.
The city first tried for a 15-year tether, but that would have meant raising the restaurant tax to give the Panthers $144 million for the stadium.
State lawmakers refused to allow that. So now, the city is scraping together $87.5 million from existing restaurant tax revenue previously earmarked for the convention center. That's enough to buy a tether just six years long, though the Panthers have agreed to some financial penalties if they leave before ten years are up.
Panthers President Danny Morrison says the team is also scaling back its vision for the renovations and will focus mainly on installing escalators to upper levels of the stadium and making the whole place more high-tech. Will the Panthers stay more than the minimum six years they promise?
"Well the best tether of all for Charlotte is Jerry Richardson," says Morrison. "He wants the team to be in the Carolinas. He's said that repeatedly."
Richardson, of course, is the team's 76-year old owner who has had some health problems and has stipulated that the Panthers be sold within two years of his death.
City officials are truly worried the team will be poached by some other city willing to build a palatial new stadium on the public dime.
City Councilman James Mitchell says not being able to get the full $144 million for a 15-year tether with the team is disappointing, but "we have to move on and we had to make sure the Panthers knew we were committed to keep them here. . . so whether it's six years or ten years, we had to get the deal done."
Mitchell says the deal buys the city some time to keep working the governor and state legislature for more money that could extend the Panther's commitment to Charlotte.
Meantime, the Panthers would start in on a smaller set of renovations. Their original plan was on the order of $300 million in upgrades. Now they're going to tackle about $112 million – with Charlotte taxpayers covering 60 percent of that.
A subcommittee of the city council has unanimously approved this smaller stadium renovation deal. It goes to the full council for a vote Monday night.