Raleigh, N.C. — Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Charlotte officials want the state to put $62.5 million toward the cost of more than $250 million improvements to the team's 17-year-old stadium.
Asked Wednesday why the team couldn't pay its own way, Richardson said, in short, because they don't have to. NFL teams, he said, "are so coveted, they don't have to pay. There are only 32."
The team has tentatively agreed to contribute $62.5 million to the effort, while the city would chip in $125 million. Charlotte Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said they had reached a "business agreement" for the city's share of the cost to be repaid by raising the food and beverage tax by 1 to 2 percent inside Charlotte's city limits. Such a move also requires legislative approval.
Richardson said he had met with encouragement in meetings with legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory. Richardson, who is 76, has said he needs the stadium improvements to make the team attractive to buyer who would keep it in Charlotte after his death.
"We don't believe Mr. Richardson is going anywhere with the team," Kimble said. "Our concern and your concern ought to be what a subsequent owner would do."
"I would never move the team," Richardson told lawmakers who represent Mecklenburg County at the legislative office building Wednesday morning. But, he said, he intended to sell the team before he dies to avoid tax consequences for his estate.
"Are you familiar with the death tax?" Richardson asked reporters. "Fifty percent of my assets are going to go away. Why would I want to leave debt to my estate?"
Richardson said he has been approached to sell the team by two potential owners and has been lobbied by the mayor of Los Angeles.
Richardson and Charlotte leaders hope the state would put up the other $62.5 million. In the proposal, city leaders wrote, "The city acknowledges that the receipt of these state funds is an essential element of the partnership with the Panthers." Kimble said the state could decide to pay its $62.5 million share as a cash grant or provide "another revenue stream."
Richardson and team President Danny Morrison last month met with new Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis to discuss the multimillion-dollar project. Both elected officials are from the Charlotte area, and McCrory was the city's mayor for 14 years. His first term was in 1995, the Panthers' inaugural season.
After that meeting, Tillis said, "I've been clear with the Panthers organization that it is not appropriate to have state taxpayer dollars go directly into the stadium."
Richardson encountered some of the same skepticism Wednesday from the group of Charlotte-area lawmakers. In particular, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, asked for more details on how the bond money would be spent.
Also, she said, lawmakers have not been approached by Charlotte's mayor or City Council members in support of the project. "I have yet to hear one word from the mayor or a supportive City Council member on this issue," Samuelson said.
Bank of America Stadium is considered a middle-aged stadium by NFL standards. Of the 31 stadiums in the league – the Giants and Jets share one in New Jersey – 25 have either been built or undergone renovations in excess of $100 million since the Panthers opened their facility. Three other franchises – in Atlanta, San Francisco and Minnesota – are in the midst of either rebuilding or new stadium construction.
If the state and city can't ante up, Richardson said he's still committed to his share of the stadium upgrades.
"We can't do it to that magnitude. We'd be limited," he said. "If they would reject it, I got to start from zero."