Panthers stadium idea draws support

Plus: Hot quarter for Charlotte office construction; 'The Welsh Cow' undoes N.C. elections chairman; Star-studded red elephant superimposed on Queen Charlotte's crown

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Local officials and even the hotel industry voice tentative enthusiasm — but what will Raleigh do?

Panthers owner David Tepper started riffing this week on how he’d like a new football stadium in Charlotte with a retractable roof – an expensive and modern venue capable of hosting Final Fours, concerts and other mega-events uptown.

The big question, of course, is will it happen?

It’s very early, it’s all speculative, blah blah blah, but based on an initial survey of some of the key players who would need to be involved, the answer is looking favorable.

Nobody in a position of power is roaring disapproval of the idea for a new stadium.

Tepper’s plan: It doesn’t sound as though Tepper has a detailed plan, because most of what he said to reporters on Tuesday and Wednesday sounds like a guy who is just throwing some ideas out there. But as a former hedge fund manager who built his net worth to $12B, he must have some idea about how the numbers might work.

One item he was crystal clear about, though, was that he has no plans to pay for it entirely himself: “I would make a big investment if I could get the state and others on board in a new stadium.”

Where would the money come from? “The economy’s big enough for a revenue tax, a hotel revenue increase that would go a long way to help pay for a new stadium,” Tepper told the Sports Business Journal. New stadiums have been costing in the $1.5B to $2B range lately.

Hotel tax details: If you stay at a hotel or Airbnb in Mecklenburg County, you pay an 8% occupancy tax. That’s the highest rate in the state. The county collected about $63M in occupancy taxes last year, but the money collected is already designated for projects such as renovating the Convention Center, supporting the NASCAR Hall of Fame and other projects.

Officials say there’s no money free today, but in the future, there could be, especially since tax collections are growing. Governments can also borrow against future income. More than a decade ago, the city used occupancy and rental-car taxes to build the $265M Spectrum Center. The city also used these taxes to commit to $170M in upgrades to Bank of America stadium in 2013 and to kick in about $7M to the construction of BB&T Ballpark in 2012.

Hotel taxes must be spent on projects that promote tourism. They cannot be spent on local needs such as affordable housing, more police or teacher raises.

Other taxes ripe for examination include:

  • Rental car taxes. This is a likely source, as it is perceived that residents don’t pay these taxes.

  • Prepared food taxes. There’s an extra 1% on the sales tax at restaurants that generated about $35M last year. This hits visitors but also residents.

  • Sales taxes. This is viewed as a regressive tax and an unlikely source for a new stadium. Voters will decide on a tax hike in November to pay for the arts and other projects.

  • Property taxes. Local politicians have traditionally avoided using property taxes for arenas and stadiums.

All those new breweries, restaurants and hotels are collecting more tax revenue than ever before — a potential source of funding for a new football stadium. (Data source: Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance)

Local government support

A couple local politicians voiced support of Tepper’s goals, according to WBTV:

“We love the Panthers and they mean a lot to our community, so of course - we’re always going to listen when they ask,” said Susan Harden, a Mecklenburg County Commissioner. …

Charlotte councilmen Larken Egelston said he’s all ears too.

“This guy has shown that he wants to have the best facilities, best team ... he’s going to need partners and the city will certainly be one of those partners,” said Egelston.

“It’s a hospitality and tourism tax. It’s built into the hotel bills of people who come and visit our city and those dollars can only be used to things that are attracting tourism. So therefore, they are not coming from Charlotte tax payer dollars, they’re coming from visitor’s tax dollars,” said Egelston.

Hotel industry support

Mohammad Jenatian, president of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, said most of the hotel owners in his organization are “anti-tax but pro-investment.” He told the Ledger that hotels throughout the region have seen the value from spending on local sports, entertainment and leisure facilities:

We as an industry have done our part to invest – obviously in the Convention Center, the arena, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the baseball stadium, arts and cultural facilities and into Bank of American Stadium a number of years ago. We have already seen the return on that investment. …

All of that has happened without having to increase anything because the growth has been there enough to cover all the bases. It all comes down to what are those numbers, what is the amount of investment, is it something that could fit into the existing taxes, or is it something that requires additional options?

He says the Panthers have been “an absolutely great partner” in bringing in big events such as the ACC football championships and international soccer matches that have benefited hotels. He says he likes Tepper’s idea of shooting for Finals Fours and big concerts.

State support likely?

For Charlotte, the wildcard is always what those legislators in Raleigh will do. Their support would be needed to raise any local hospitality tax rates. And they will probably be asked to kick in some big bucks for the stadium project, too.

A spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger told the Ledger he couldn’t weigh in without a specific request. House Speaker Tim Moore didn’t respond.

The state has been willing to pony up for economic development. Emails show the state was prepared to offer Apple more than $2B in tax incentives over 15 years, before the company decided to expand in Texas.

Bipartisan fan base: Although Democratic Charlotte often battles with the Republicans running the legislature in Raleigh, support for the Panthers cuts across party lines. Republicans from suburban and rural counties are fans.

“Given the history and the statewide fan base for the team, it seems like there’s a chance they would get the money,” says Joe Coletti, who follows state budget issues for the conservative John Locke Foundation in Raleigh.

Bottom line: Giving tax money for the benefit of billionaire sports owners rubs a lot of people the wrong way. But nobody in a position of power has spoken up against the idea.

Bonus idea: The Charlotte area always talks about regionalism. If the new-stadium juggernaut is going to happen, can we at least get surrounding counties to kick in some money, too?

Best of NextDoor

A Stonehaven homeowner has HAD IT:

‘A quarter for the ages’

Quarterly research reports on the market for Charlotte office space usually lack drama and literary flare. But a report out this week from JLL noted that the 2Q of 2019 in Charlotte was just absolutely gangbusters for office activity.

It cited Lowe’s heading to South End, Truist heading to uptown, the leasing of the RailYard on South Tryon, Optimist Hall ouside uptown, The Nexus at Waverly, the Waters Edge redevelopment in University City … and on and on.

“From the University to Ballantyne, development activity is rampant and should continue well into 2020,” the report predicted.

The report’s title: “Class A office deliveries and the Lowe’s HQ announcement anchor a quarter for the ages.”

When jokes go awry

By now, you might have seen the news that retired Charlotte lawyer Bob Cordle, chairman of the State Board of Elections, resigned this week after telling an inappropriate joke at a conference of election officials.

The Raleigh News & Observer characterized it as a “sex joke.” WRAL quoted a local elections official who called it “an extremely lengthy dirty joke” that was “misogynistic and wildly inappropriate for a high-ranking state official to tell.” WRAL called it a “joke about cows and sex” that “ended by comparing a cow who refused to be impregnated to a woman.” Which sounds like the worst punchline ever.

While dutifully reporting Cordle’s resignation, though, media outlets skirted an important issue: What exactly was the joke? Readers want to decide for themselves.

In uncertain times, we can rely on the internet to deliver: A Watauga County blogger unearthed what appears to be the joke in question. It’s called “The Welsh Cow.” Here’s the link (safe for work).

The joke is not really that offensive. But it does seem inappropriate, not to mention totally off-topic at an elections convention.

Career tip: It’s best to play it safe and keep the jokes 100% clean in front of an audience.

In brief

  • Higher fares to New York? JetBlue’s announcement that it will cease flights between Charlotte and New York’s JFK International Airport starting in October could prompt higher airfares to the whole New York area. When low-cost carriers leave a market, fares typically jump by more than 10%. (Forbes)

  • Skyscraper opening: The new 33-story Bank of America Tower building at Legacy Union on South Tryon Street is set to open in the next two weeks, according to a letter sent to bank employees from Charlotte market president Charles Bowman. “The new Tower builds on our presence in Uptown and adds to the beautiful skyline of our headquarters city,” he wrote. Consumer and small-business divisions will move in first, followed by global banking and markets and wealth management in 2020.

  • Lowe’s outsourcing: Mooresville-based home-improvement retailer Lowe’s says it is outsourcing the jobs of workers who assemble wheelbarrows, grills and other products. The company has told thousands of workers that their jobs are being eliminated. (CNBC)

  • Media move: After 22 years at Charlotte public-radio station WFAE, veteran newsman Mark Rumsey is leaving to train as a hospital chaplain. His final day on the mic was Thursday. (WFAE)

  • Wells Fargo upgraded: Bank analyst Dick Bove with Odeon Capital wrote in a note to clients: ““I am convinced that the company will recover. The restructuring is likely to be successful.”

  • RNC graphic design: The Republican National Committee unveiled the logo for next year’s convention in Charlotte. The Associated Press headline is “2020 GOP convention logo has star-studded elephant, crown.” Political commentator Ben Shapiro on Twitter: “Why is the elephant fighting a giant squid at the circus?”

Food and booze news

A weekly wrap-up of the week’s eating and drinking developments

  • New brewery: Lower Left Brewery plans to open Aug. 6, two blocks from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. The brewhouse, which was formerly a mechanic’s garage, will produce fruited and traditional sours as well as “a variety of IPAs, including Juicy McJuiceface, a New England-style IPA.” (Biz Journal)

  • Bentley’s to SouthPark: Bentley’s on 27 is moving to Piedmont Row in SouthPark. It plans to open in the former George’s Brasserie space this fall. It had been on the top floor of the Charlotte Plaza Building for 15 years before closing in May. It will be called Bentley’s Restaurant. (Ledger editor in Charlotte magazine)

  • Hot new food hall: Optimist Hall, a food hall in a converted 120-year-old textile mill between uptown and NoDa, opened Thursday to enthusiastic reviews: “breathtaking … amazing … scents of pork belly, creamy gelato and fresh coffee waft throughout the space.” (CharlotteFive)

  • Tough choice: Chick-fil-A dethrones In-N-Out Burger as nation’s favorite fast-food chain in big annual survey. (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Penguin rebirth? Former Penguin Drive-In manager Brian Rowe has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help launch his latest venture, to be called Bird Bones Cafe in Optimist Park. He wants to recreate the Penguin vibe: “When you walk in here, you’re gonna think you’re in the Penguin.” (Agenda)

Death of Charlotte’s dive bars

Jeremy Markovich of Our State magazine wrote a thoughtful essay this week on that last item, the effort by one of the guys behind The Penguin to start up something similar. He used the occasion to lament that some of these hot Charlotte neighborhoods are losing their distinctive flavor:

Plaza-Midwood was once what the rest of Charlotte was not: a neighborhood where people came to escape the rest of the city, and The Penguin was the spring that fed the oasis. But then everybody who came wanted to stay, and apartments sprouted up to give them shelter, and new stores were built to give them convenience, and the price of everything went up, and parking spaces were harder to find, and a whole city loved The Penguin to death. Then they left its sign up as a grave stone, and all talked about how much cooler Plaza-Midwood was when The Bird was there. Plaza-Midwood was a shining example of what authentic Charlotte used to be. It’s also a shining example of what it is now.

Full article here.

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  • Editor: Tony Mecia

  • Photo credit: Caroline Mecia

The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.