I don’t begrudge the Carolina Panthers $125 million for stadium improvements. What’s $125 million – a trolley?
If I’m Charlotte, I give the Panthers the money under one air-tight, stone-cold, non-negotiable condition: the team commits to the town. Specifically, the Panthers agree not to leave.
Last month the Buffalo Bills announced they would spend $130 million to improve Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills will kick in $35 million, the public $95 million. The Bills signed a 10-year lease but can leave after seven years.
Seven years is not enough.
Jerry Richardson, who owns the Panthers, insisted on a 10-year agreement between owners and players during the 2011 NFL lockout. Ten years is unprecedented in an NFL labor agreement. But Richardson was adamant. Thus, the league put off the often acrimonious debate a full decade.
Charlotte should compel the Panthers to commit for at least 10 years, and perhaps for 15. That has a nice ring, 15.
As I wrote Wednesday, I don’t like the covert nature of the negotiations between Carolina and Charlotte. I don’t know which party decided they would meet in a closed session Monday. I don’t know which party imposed an apparent gag order.
Taxpayers are entitled to see where their money will go. The issue should be debated in the light, not behind thick walls or opaque glass. This doesn’t need to be a mystery.
Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers play, opened in 1996. The stadium is structurally sound, clean and still attractive. It could, over time, become one of those storied stadiums with as much allure as the team that plays in it.
The $125 million won’t go toward repairing crumbling infrastructure because infrastructure isn’t crumbling. By football standards, the stadium is middle aged. But it’s not as if it can go out and buy a convertible. The money the Panthers seek likely will be used for a facelift, a few electronic scoreboard tricks and to better enable fans to get where they want to go.
If Charlotte raises taxes on prepared food and beverages from 1 percent to 2 percent to generate the cash, I, as a Charlotte resident, support it.
The NFL is the most popular sport – by far – in Charlotte and just about everywhere else in America. If the Panthers didn’t play in town, what would people complain about on Monday mornings?
I’ve never been cheap, as certain bartenders will attest. In related news, I’ve never brought a metal detector to the beach. You have to pay your way.
I’d love to know, in turn, how much money the Panthers generate for Charlotte. I suspect those numbers might have come up in Monday’s closed session.
The team will not leave town as long as Richardson, 76, is alive. But when he passes his estate will be hit hard by the so-called death tax.
As a result, a source says, the family will have two years to sell the team. The new owner conceivably could collect enough votes from NFL owners to move the Panthers to another city.
If this feels like a shakedown, it’s a genteel shakedown, a Southern shakedown, a shakedown with snacks and complimentary iced tea.
As a taxpayer, it’s an easy call for me.
More challenging is how I get to the stadium – light rail or trolley?