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Panthers-Rock Hill Saga

Go in depth with what happens behind David Tepper and the Panthers ending their deal to build their headquarters in Rock Hill.

The Carolina Panthers have announced the termination of their contract with the City of Rock Hill for the construction of a new team headquarters and practice site. The project had been seen as transformational for Rock Hill and York County.

So how did the team and the city get here?

Here’s a timeline of key developments spanning five years of planning for the Panthers’ move:

An August 2018 letter from Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys to Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, later published online by Gettys, features Rock Hill as a sports destination and invites Tepper to visit the city and explore options for a new team headquarters and training facility.

In November 2018, broadcaster and then-voice of the Carolina Panthers, Mick Mixon, spoke at a meeting of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce in Rock Hill, where Mixon released a list of hypotheses alluding to a headquarters project.

“What if I told you a few hundred acres somewhere near here is going to be bought up pretty soon,” Mixon said at that meeting, “and a state-of-the-art training facility with restaurants, stores, banks , condos, apartments are going to be built and the Carolina Panthers business center is going to move here?”

After the meeting, area business leaders said they viewed Mixon’s comments as hypothetical and not an announcement.

“As speaker of the chamber, I hope that’s true,” said Rob Youngblood, then speaker of the chamber. “It would be great even to be considered for something like that.”

In March 2019, U.S. Representative Ralph Norman and Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys confirmed that the city and the team had discussed a headquarters in Rock Hill. The two chosen ones met the team in February 2019 to pitch the Rock Hill project.

That same month, state lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster met to discuss legal changes — they would ultimately be approved in May 2019 — to allow tax incentives for the Panthers.

Later in March 2019, Gettys confirmed that the Hutchison Farm site off I-77 was under consideration for the team’s training facility. The property was in York County, but later annexed to the Rock Hill town limits.

In May 2019, a joint letter signed by the mayors of Rock Hill, Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach expressed support for the Rock Hill site. The letter from the state’s major landmarks urged state lawmakers to enact economic incentives under discussion at the time, which those lawmakers would do.

“The impact on Rock Hill and York County in the specific case before us today will be felt for generations to come,” the mayors wrote.

In June 2019, Tepper and team officials joined city and state leaders for a cheer rally in downtown Rock Hill to announce a partnership. Tepper spoke of a world-class orthopedic and executive medicine facility in addition to the Panthers facility in Rock Hill, which would attract people from across the country.

“It’s going to be a showcase here,” Tepper said at the Fountain Park rally. “We are going to bring people to this area. We’ll just have a sense of excellence not only up there for the football team, but everything we do here at Rock Hill.

In September 2019, multiple sources reported that land was under contract to be sold to the Panthers. In October 2019, Team Vice President and COO Mark Hart presented plans for the training site to the Rock Hill business community during a downtown business retreat. Hart talked about a training facility and headquarters, but also venues for other events, and even a golf course purchase.

“We want our facility in this community to have an iconic presence,” Hart said.

In November 2019, the Rock Hill City Council began the team headquarters approval process, after months of discussions ranging from allowing what could have been South Carolina’s tallest building to playing , tattooing and other possible businesses on the site.

Gettys asked its business community in December 2019 to convey the need for a sense of urgency to York County officials to bring the $2 billion Panthers project to fruition. City officials requested changes to tax districts, which the county would have to approve, to allow Opportunity Zone funding for the Panthers and other development projects.

“The one thing we’re missing to make all of this happen is a sense of urgency,” Gettys said at the time.

In February 2020, the state Department of Transportation issued a public notice of an I-77 interchange planned to serve the Panthers project. The $90 million project would be part of a larger road improvement plan in the region, boosted by the new headquarters.

In March 2020, the hiring of contractors began for the construction of the new Panthers site. That same month, York County agreed to its share of the project and released details of the incentives involving the city, county and team.

The county’s final vote in April took place despite few people being able to attend, amid the early stages of social distancing due to COVID-19.

In March 2020 the team purchased Waterford Golf Club and its planned headquarters.

In June 2020, nearly $35 million in federal funds was announced for the new I-77 exit.

Foundation stone laid in July 2020 with the aim of opening the new head office in 2023.

Hart held a virtual presentation for around 1,000 people in October 2020 to update plans for the site, which the team called “The Rock”.

In February 2021, the team had a time lapse video to show the construction progress.

A May 2021 request from the team to York County requested assistance with infrastructure costs. A letter from Hart to the county that month indicated that Rock Hill’s expected money had not come. Bonds were to be issued by the city by October 2020, according to the letter, and an extension to February 2021 had already been missed. The city said it has met its financial obligations up to this point.

“Unfortunately, infrastructure funding remains at a crossroads,” Hart wrote to the county.

In June 2021, the team and the Tepper family announced a combined donation of $700,000 to Miracle Park, indicating plans for an ongoing partnership with the city where his team would operate.

A March announcement from the team said the headquarters project would be put on hold due to ongoing funding issues with the city. An announcement from Tepper Sports & Entertainment read:

“Given the economic realities, the difficult but prudent decision has been made to put the project on hold. Ongoing work will continue with our partners to find an economically acceptable solution for all parties to continue this project at Rock Hill.

Later in March, York County agreed to a newly proposed funding agreement with the team and the city. In it, four decades of incentives would pay for the $225 million in public infrastructure at the heart of the team’s funding with the city.

On Tuesday, the team announced that it would end its contract with Rock Hill for construction at the site off I-77.

This story was originally published April 19, 2022 1:26 p.m.

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John Marks graduated from Furman University in 2004 and joined the Herald in 2005. He covers community growth, municipalities, transportation and education primarily in York and Lancaster counties. The Fort Mill native has won dozens of South Carolina Press Association awards and several President McClatchy Awards for news coverage in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie.
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