Would Panthers move? Tourism leaders say they’re pushing tax extension to prevent that
Extending a tourism tax in Mecklenburg County will help keep professional sports teams in the Queen City, says the leader of Charlotte’s tourism alliance.
Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance President Mohammad Jenatian and other tourism leaders on behalf of the city are lobbying for N.C. House Bill 408, which would remove sunsets on two taxes that have brought in nearly $250 million in tax revenue in the last five years for Charlotte sports and event venues.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. John Bradford, a north Mecklenburg Republican, proposes extending a 1% food and beverage tax and a 2% hotel occupancy tax to 2060. The state allows Charlotte to borrow against the tax for up to 30 years. Officials used that tactic to build the Convention Center and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and they’ve got eyes on Bank of America Stadium as a potential future use.
“Leaders in the hospitality industry came to me with the need to extend the financial tools that have created tremendous growth throughout the Charlotte region and allow our hoteliers, restaurateurs, and businesses in the region to continue with their success,” Bradford told The Charlotte Observer.
Spectrum Center and Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte was vulnerable to losing the Hornets until the City Council approved a lease extension for the Hornets in 2022, Jenatian said. Las Vegas and Seattle would both “give anything to get an NBA team,” he said.
Seattle was the longtime home of the NBA’s Supersonics, which moved to Oklahoma City in the late 2000s, and the city hopes to bring a team back. Las Vegas doesn’t have an NBA team, but it’s part of league expansion conversations.
The Charlotte City Council voted to allocate $215 million in tourism tax revenue last year in a deal extending the Hornets’ lease at the Spectrum Center to 2045, renovating the arena and building a practice facility uptown.
“We don’t want to get to a point where we have to be worried about losing anything,” Jenatian said.
Now, Jenatian said there’s a consensus within the tourism industry Charlotte must be proactive to keep the Panthers in the Queen City. Removing the sunset on taxes will generate revenue for something he says is a necessity: renovating the 27-year-old Bank of America Stadium before 2060. The city’s Major League Soccer team also plays at the stadium.
“The question becomes how do we enhance an asset for it to generate more revenues, more tourism for our communities,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Hornets refused comment on the bill. A Carolina Panthers spokesperson referred a reporter to the mayor’s office.
“One out of every nine people in our community work in the hospitality and tourism industry and the Panthers and Charlotte FC are an important part of that industry,” Mayor Vi Lyles said in a statement. “It is also important we have venues for the games, concerts and other events that create a vibrant city that is growing and delivers services to our residents.”
The last NFL team to move cities was the Raiders franchise, moving from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020. Several years prior, Los Angeles gained the Chargers and Rams from San Diego and St. Louis, respectively.
Bank of America stadium just renovated?
The food and beverage tax — which is expected to generate nearly $47 million next year — was enacted to fund the Charlotte Convention Center. By law, it sunsets in either 2031 or when the final debt payment is made on the building.
Last decade, the legislature amended the tax to allow proceeds to also be used for amateur sports and a football-sized stadium.
Prior to David Tepper’s ownership of the Panthers the team accepted $87.5 million in tourism dollars from the city for stadium renovations, including a new scoreboard and escalators. Tepper Sports & Entertainment has not received public money since Tepper’s arrival in Charlotte.
A deal between Tepper and York County that would’ve brought a practice facility and headquarters to Rock Hill fell through in April 2022 after construction on the site halted. It would have included local and South Carolina state public money.
But there’s still work to do, Jenatian said.
“Our beautiful brand new stadium is old by the measures people put out there,” he said. “People need to understand that these facilities need to be updated.”
He expects renovations to the Spectrum Center to result in another NBA All-Star game coming to Charlotte, and wants to see Bank of America Stadium bring in similar events.
“I absolutely wanna have an NFL draft over here. I absolutely want us to have a (Major League Soccer) all-star event over here.,” Jenatian said. “I would absolutely love for us to be in a position to have the Super Bowl in Charlotte one day. The global exposure that a lot of those events put on us, you can put value on it.”
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House Bill 408 details
Extending the 1% food and beverage tax and the 2% hotel occupancy tax to 2060 was added to House Bill 408 last week, which originally just included the creation of a special Charlotte FC license plate for use in North Carolina. It’s generated $175.6 million since the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to Jenatian.
Revenue on the 2% hotel and motel room tax is paying off debt on the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opened in 2010. It generated $66.7 million in the last five years, data provided by Jenatian show.
HB 408 is currently sitting in the House Rules committee after being amended and still has a chance of becoming law in this legislative session. The bill isn’t subject to the legislature’s crossover deadline — when some bills have to pass either the House or Senate to still have a chance of becoming law.
Co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill include Democratic Reps. Mary Belk, Terry Brown Jr., Carolyn Logan and Becky Carney and Republican Reps. Chris Humphrey and Jason Saine.
Tourism industry takes lead on lobbying
The task of lobbying has fallen on the tourism industry rather than the city government, Jenatian said. Charlotte city leaders are focused on a different tax proposal instead.
“We would have loved for them to take the ball and run with it, but as you know,” Jenatian started, “they decided that they only want to focus on one thing, and that thing is the transit tax. And therefore, they didn’t want to do anything else. A lot of us couldn’t sit back and wait for two more years.”
But the council is already talking about potential renovation options.
In an closed session Jan. 31, the City Council discussed a potential framework of a $1.2 billion project with $600 million in public funds, the Observer’s news partner WSOC reported last week. The city hasn’t begun official negotiations, but it also met during a closed session Feb. 27 to discuss the possibility of extending the city’s tourism tax, WSOC reported.
Extending the tourism tax has not been discussed publicly by the Charlotte City Council. Mecklenburg Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell told WFAE she was surprised the city didn’t talk about the proposal because county residents pay the tax.
Lyles called it “unfortunate” when a closed session conversation becomes public, but said she wouldn’t confirm whether news reports were true.
“Without confirming any of the information, I will say that it is unfortunate that discussions that happen in closed session are shared publicly because it undermines our ability to deliver the best deal for our community. It is important that we retain any business in our city,” Mayor Lyles said in a statement when asked about the closed session.