ROCK HILL, S.C. — Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said Monday he is going back to square one with David Tepper and other city officials for a new agreement on the Carolina Panthers' new training facility that's been delayed.
Rock Hill City Council met Monday night for the first time since Tepper announced he was pausing construction of the $800 million practice facility last week due to funding concerns. Tepper Sports and Entertainment issued a statement saying Tepper had invested $170 million in the project but claimed the city of Rock Hill never issued bonds for its part of the investment.
“Our partners have been unable to contribute the agreed upon investment to fund the construction of the public infrastructure,” the statement provided on March 7 read. “Given the economic realities, the difficult but prudent decision has been made to pause the project. The ongoing work will continue with our partners to find an economically acceptable solution for all parties to continue this project in Rock Hill.”
Council records show leaders approved the issuance of bonds for the Panthers project of up to $290,000,000 at a meeting in December 2021. At the time, City Attorney Paul Dillingham told council members the goal was to have the bonds issued by the end of February 2022.
Gettys said city leadership does what it can to bring bonds to market, short of risking the city's credit rating.
"Any implication by the Panthers that the city did not do its absolute and professional best is simply not true," he added. "Facts are stubborn things."
Discussions between the city and the Panthers started in 2019.
Gettys said talks continued to intensify through 2020-21 and all parties associated worked on various agreements to make sure the development made it to bond financing for the site. Gettys said the city specifically negotiated it would not backstop the public debt.
During that timeframe, Gettys mentioned the city held a first-reading and adoption of a municipal improvement district in a special January meeting so the Panthers could provide a limited backstop to the debt. Gettys said the city also held a first-reading and adoption of an assessment role required that would require the Panthers to have a limited backstop for the debt.
During Monday's meeting, officials said the Panthers did not provide sufficient details as far development plans and other checklist items that would be necessary to issue the bonds.
Officials say by the end of 2021, they felt like they were in a good spot to actually issue the bonds after having what were considered "good-faith talks" with the Panthers and other partners. At that point, officials say the Panthers put a stop to plans so they could exercise other avenues to address the debt. That decision was reportedly made in the early part of 2022.
Rock Hill leaders say they're ready to get back to the table to come to an agreement due to the changing culture of finances from the start of the talks to now.
"The world has certainly changed since 2019," Gettys said. "I think, speaking for myself only, I think that does necessitate us going back to the table and working on an agreement because times have changed. But I also think that its important that be done so we're around the table, working constructively, and I look forward working constructively with both the Panthers and the county to make that happen."
WCNC Charlotte has reached out to the Panthers for a comment about Monday's meeting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.