Char­lotte wants to bring more events to Pan­thers sta­dium

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Encore - BY KATHER­INE PER­ALTA kper­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Kather­ine Per­alta: 704-358-5079, katieper­alta

The city of Char­lotte is po­ten­tially wast­ing a cost­sav­ing op­por­tu­nity to book events at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium ev­ery year, a perk promised to tax­pay­ers who helped fund the fa­cil­ity’s ren­o­va­tions. Emails ob­tained by the Ob­server through a pub­lic records re­quest show how the city is look­ing to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion. Char­lotte city lead­ers have been ex­plor­ing a range of en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, from a bat­tle of the bands to a pro­fes­sional Span­ish soc­cer match, to fill the rent-free days at the sta­dium, ac­cord­ing to the emails. Still, the sta­dium’s off­sea­son sched­ule re­mains rel­a­tively quiet — at least as far as city-booked events are con­cerned. The city re­ceives five rent-free days as a perk from the deal it made with the Car­olina Pan­thers in 2013 to pro­vide $87.5 mil­lion in pub­lic funds to help ren­o­vate the sta­dium. Also as part of the deal, the Pan­thers agreed to be “teth­ered” to Char­lotte through at least 2019, with fur­ther penal­ties for leav­ing in 2020-23. In years past, how­ever, Char­lotte has not used all of the avail­able rent-free days, which pro­vide a sav­ings of $250,000 per event to the city. The city has con­tended that the sta­dium’s off­sea­son ren­o­va­tions, which wrapped up last year, have made sched­ul­ing ex­tra events dif­fi­cult. The win­dow for book­ing the rent­free days is lim­ited: Jan. 30 through La­bor Day. The fa­cil­ity’s off-sea­son sched­ule wasn’t lim­ited by ren­o­va­tions this year. But so far, the city has only three rent-free days booked at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium for 2019: The CONCACAF Gold Cup soc­cer match in July, the Belk Col­lege Kick­off (Univer­sity of North Car­olina against Univer­sity of South Car­olina) Aug. 31, and the Belk Bowl in De­cem­ber. As­sum­ing no other days are booked, by the end of the year, Char­lotte will have ac­cu­mu­lated 15 un­used rent-free days at the sta­dium, worth $3.75 mil­lion in rent, since the start of the ren­o­va­tions-fund­ing deal with the team. For­mer long­time deputy city man­ager Ron Kim­ble, who still works for the city as a con­sul­tant, helped ne­go­ti­ate the deal with the Pan­thers. But Kim­ble said Wed­nes­day it is un­clear if the rent-free days ex­pire if they go un­used by 2023, or if they roll over for mul­ti­ple years. Kim­ble said he hopes to dis­cuss roll-over op­tions with David Tep­per, who bought the Pan­thers last sum­mer. “We’ve done all we could to get mega-events in the sta­dium,” Kim­ble said. “We did not achieve all the dates we have in our agree­ment, but we made a great ef­fort to book as many as we could.”

SOC­CER, MARCH­ING BAND OP­TIONS

Ac­cord­ing to the emails, city of­fi­cials have been work­ing on a few ways to fill more of the days. “The more we can have com­mu­nity events at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium, the more the city feels like it is its fa­cil­ity. It’s a point of pride for the ci­ti­zens,” at-large Char­lotte city coun­cil mem­ber James Mitchell told the Ob­server. Last spring, team of­fi­cials met with city lead­ers and Derek Web­ber, a lo­cal mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive, to dis­cuss hold­ing the an­nual Queen City Bat­tle of the Bands march­ing band com­pe­ti­tion at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium that sum­mer. The event, which Web­ber started in 2010 to pro­vide schol­ar­ships to par­tic­i­pat­ing his­tor­i­cally black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties (HBCUs), had out­grown its pre­vi­ous home at Me­mo­rial Sta­dium, Web­ber told the Ob­server. Scott Paul, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of sta­dium op­er­a­tions, in­formed Web­ber that a pre-sea­son game con­flicted with the tim­ing of the pro­posed event, but the team re­mained in­ter­ested in host­ing in the fu­ture. “We will still send Derek a re­vised ex­pense es­ti­mate and would be happy to dis­cuss an event in 2019,” Paul said in an April 11 email. In­stead, Web­ber re­ceived an of­fer from the city of Hous­ton last fall to host the Bat­tle of the Bands for three years at NRG Sta­dium, home of the NFL’s Tex­ans. Web­ber said he went back to Char­lotte of­fi­cials to gauge their in­ter­est again, but re­ceived no re­sponse. “It’s like a girl­friend you’ve been dat­ing for a long time,” Web­ber said of his event’s re­la­tion­ship with Char­lotte. “You take each other for granted some­times.” An­other event that city lead­ers have been push­ing for is a La Liga soc­cer game. In an Aug. 22, 2018, email, Kim­ble for­warded a link to a Bleacher Re­port story on La Liga to city of­fi­cials and Paul. “I be­lieve this is some- thing that should be raised as a fu­ture pos­si­bil­ity with Mr. Tep­per,” Kim­ble wrote of the story, called “La Liga Is Com­ing to Amer­ica — and This Is Just the Be­gin­ning.” In re­sponse the next day, Paul wrote that the Pan­thers reached out the week prior to Relevent Sports, a pro­moter that works on bring­ing Eu­ro­pean soc­cer to the U.S. “We will con­tinue to have con­ver­sa­tions and will bring you in when they start look­ing at dates and cities,” Paul wrote. “Char­lotte has a very good story to tell.” Pro­fes­sional soc­cer matches have drawn large crowds at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium in re­cent years. In the months since he bought the Pan­thers last year, Tep­per has said mul­ti­ple times that he wants to bring more events to the sta­dium. In his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence in Char­lotte in July, for in­stance, Tep­per men­tioned con­certs and high school state cham­pi­onship foot­ball games as pos­si­bil­i­ties. To be sure, the Pan­thers could book any event they wanted to at any time of the year, since they are not bound by the city’s rent-free day agree­ment. Since open­ing in Septem­ber 1996, the sta­dium has hosted just two con­certs: The Rolling Stones in 1997, and Kenny Ch­es­ney and Tim McGraw in 2012. “We’re telling peo­ple we’re open for busi­ness. We’re hav­ing a lot of con­ver­sa­tions with pro­mot­ers,” Paul told the Ob­server.

CHUCK BUR­TON AP

City lead­ers are con­sid­er­ing events to fill rent-free days at Bank of Amer­i­can Sta­dium.

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