Is Char­lotte be­ing played by the Panthers?

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE OB­SERVER ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

If you were the owner of the Carolina Panthers and wanted a bet­ter deal on your team’s head­quar­ters, you’d prob­a­bly do ex­actly what David Tep­per is do­ing right now.

You’d flirt with the next-door neigh­bor, in this case across the bor­der in South Carolina.

You’d see if of­fi­cials there could of­fer you a bet­ter deal that in­volves cheaper land and lower taxes than you’re cur­rently pay­ing.

You’d smile when the gover­nor of the state that wants you holds a press con­fer­ence to say so, and when the gover­nor of the state that might lose you tells re­porters he doesn’t want that to hap­pen.

So it was this week with the Panthers, who by all in­di­ca­tions are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing mov­ing their head­quar­ters to York or Lan­caster coun­ties. At the least, it’s smart ne­go­ti­at­ing, and it’s not only what you would do in Tep­per’s shoes. It’s what cor­po­rate CEOs and pres­i­dents reg­u­larly en­gage in (mi­nus the press con­fer­ence, per­haps) when they’re con­tem­plat­ing a new home or a bet­ter deal in their cur­rent city.

Is Char­lotte be­ing played by Tep­per and the Panthers? Of course. But city of­fi­cials and all Char­lot­teans should strip away the emo­tion that of­ten gets tan­gled up in dis­cus­sions about pro sports and pub­lic money. They should re­al­ize what this ne­go­ti­a­tion is — and what it isn’t.

This ne­go­ti­a­tion is for a cor­po­rate head­quar­ters — a moder­ately sized one of 150 em­ploy­ees, with a more-than-moder­ately-sized pay­roll of about $190 mil­lion a year.

What the ne­go­ti­a­tion isn’t about is the Panthers mov­ing games out of Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium. The team doesn’t want to move to a sta­dium in the less-pop­u­lated sub­urbs. The NFL doesn’t want that, ei­ther. That doesn’t mean the team and city won’t face sta­dium ne­go­ti­a­tions that might in­clude talk about the Panthers mov­ing to a sta­dium in an­other city. Those dis­cus­sions are com­ing some­day. This isn’t it.

As for the cor­po­rate head­quar­ters, it’s dif­fi­cult to tell how se­ri­ous the Panthers are about York or Lan­caster coun­ties. South Carolina can cer­tainly of­fer a stout pack­age of in­cen­tives, in­clud­ing in­ex­pen­sive land for a domed prac­tice fa­cil­ity and a restau­rant/en­ter­tain­ment com­plex Tep­per has wanted to de­velop. Still, it’s no small thing to make your em­ploy­ees and ex­ec­u­tives en­dure a try­ing com­mute each day to South Carolina, and cheaper land isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the best land on which to build a suc­cess­ful re­tail and en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict.

A bet­ter op­tion: up­town Char­lotte. Tep­per knows this. So do Char­lotte and North Carolina of­fi­cials, who could dan­gle that kind of col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture to Tep­per. The team has had “on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions” with the N.C. Com­merce De­part­ment, a spokesper­son for Gov. Roy Cooper told the Ob­server, and Tep­per has met with the gover­nor. The Panthers are work­ing both sides — as they should — and they’ll surely see if the state and Char­lotte can come up with a bet­ter deal on what’s a bet­ter lo­ca­tion than across the bor­der.

Char­lotte of­fi­cials should somberly try to do so — just as they do for any cor­po­ra­tion big or small that’s get­ting wooed by an­other state. But they shouldn’t open the vault too much, be­cause the re­al­ity is that even if the Panthers move their head­quar­ters across the bor­der, they’re not do­ing the same with their games. Char­lotte isn’t los­ing the Panthers. At least not yet.

TRACY GLANTZ [email protected]­tate.com

David Tep­per ar­rives at the S.C. gover­nor’s man­sion Wed­nes­day.

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