It has been over a year since David Tepper signed on the dotted line, purchasing the Carolina Panthers, for an NFL record $2.275B. He’s spent much of the past 15 months making up for lost time, doing many of things Jerry Richardson was too austere to do.
So far, he’s made investments in player health, marketing, and has made big strides to bring the team facilities into the 21st Century. So now, when it rains, players no longer have to run routes and defend passes on the carpeted hallways of the Convention Center – they have a weatherproof field to practice on inside a brand new bubble.
Earlier this summer, he made his biggest move to date, announcing that the Panthers would be moving their training facility and team HQ to Rock Hill, SC. While the Bubble brings the team into the 21st century, what Tepper has planned in Rock Hill prepares both he, and the team for the future.
In Late October, Rock HIll Planning Commission held a hearing to discuss the Panther’s rezoning plan – this meeting gave us our first glimpse into what we can expect the Panther’s plan to look like. It also gives us a glimpse into one of the biggest ways Tepper will be diversifying his investment.
Ultimately the plan was approved by a vote of 5-2, to move on to City Council for a final vote.
The Panthers new facility will sit on what is currently 285 acres of heavily wooded land, located just south of the Catawba River, adjacent to I-77 at 2394 Eden Terrace in Rock HIll.
Beyond the headquarters and practice facility, which are expected to open August of 2022, the development will include many different uses. According to the memorandum, the team will aim to establish a commercial district, anchored by regional and corporate headquarters, shopping, nightlife, hotel rooms, and a dense residential district.
The proposed buildout, so far, includes the following:
- 10 single family detached
- 250 Townhouses
- 1225 multifamily units (decreased by 130 if hotel is increased)
- 230 hotel rooms (could increase to 380 if residential is decreased)
- 2.37 million sq feet office
- 425k sq feet Research & Development space
- 227k sq feet retail, restaurant, and personal service space
- 70k sq feet storage
A Map, For the Visual Learners:
- Development Area A (BLUE) – Practice Facility, HQ, Sports/Entertainment Venues & Mixed Use. This area will likely be the highest density, including hotels, office and residential and will be highest concentration of retail.
- Development Area B (RED) – Office/Employment, Mixed Use. This will be more moderate density, and will be a hub for commercial space. Likely to have a similar makeup to Zone A, but less intense land-use.
- Development Area C (GREEN) – Accessory Uses, Infrastructure & Open Space. A lot of this space is a buffer for Duke Power electrical lines, as well as space for other utilities, including but not limited to substations, water/sewer/gas, and streets. It also includes useable open space, parks, sidewalks, plazas and greenways.
- Development Area D (PURPLE) Residential Mixed Use Parcel. This will be the least dense portion, no building will be taller than 50 feet in height and will be all residential use.
Casino, Cigar Bar, Skyscrapers?
Beyond these raw numbers, there’s numerous other items discussed.
- Tallest Building in South Carolina: “The height for most buildings will not exceed 360 feet (about 26 stories), although the developer is requesting that the signature building for the project be up to 485 feet tall (about 35 floors).” For reference the tallest “occupied” building in SC is the Capitol Center building in Columbia at 349 feet. The tallest would be comparable to 1 Bank of America Center in Charlotte at 484 feet.
- People-oriented vs. Team Oriented: The plan is very public facing, aiming to provide more to the general public than to the team. For instance, Atrium Health will be opening a state-of-the-art sports medicine facility that will employ 200 people and serve both players and the public alike.
The team facility is designed to be utilized by the players, but in some cases will give access to the general public. There will be public viewing areas, and the team facility is expected to host high school football games.
- Focus on Outdoor Space: Of the 285 acres being rezoned by the Panthers, they plan on retaining 15% of it as open space. A sidewalk and trail network is planned throughout the site, connecting pedestrians and cyclists alike. The rest of the open space will be plazas, pocket parks and greenways. The hope is also to retain at least 10% of the tree canopy.
- Architectural Design: The overall project will aim for a modern aesthetic. Everything is expected to be high quality materials and design, but honestly, I’m not sure what that means in 2019. There is plenty of shoddy “modernist” buildings currently under construction or recently completed in Charlotte. I have hope though – the plan is being spearheaded by Populous, whose noted designs include the vaunted Tottenham Hotspurs stadium that the Panthers had the opportunity to play in this past October.
- If sports betting is legalized, Tepper is ready. Tepper has hinted that sports betting plays an important role in the future of the NFL. These beliefs are echoed in the memorandum, noting that the Panthers would like to include gaming venues, casinos, or similar gaming establishments in the future plans. It’s worth noting that South Carolina is even more anti-casino than North Carolina, so this will be a tough road to travel. If the gaming laws change, Tepper will be the first to capitalize. He has already started making Casino relationships, signing Harrah’s to a five-year sponsorship deal.
- Entertainment Focus – Cigars & Nightlife: Like Cam, we enjoy cigars and wine in public establishments while we make our vlogs. The team would like to include Cigar Bars as an option, but this kind of thing doesn’t fly in Rock Hill, it’s prohibited in the City’s Smoking Ordinance, and would require a law change – the plan is also looking to establish a nightlife hub, and requests to push the “closing time” of bars to later than 2am. This is another case where a state law would have to be changed.
- The Highway is important: The team will work with SCDOT to create a new highway interchange for direct access into the facility and the surrounding area. It’s also a priority to have direct sightlines to I-77, so trees facing the highway will be pruned back significantly.
- Transit Connection to Charlotte?: Tepper has mentioned the light rail to the new HQ on a few occasions. This is mentioned loosely in the memorandum, stating that “while light rail is appealing in some ways, it costs a lot more and it is hard to figure out where it would run.” Notwithstanding, the Panthers ask that should mass transit be considered in the future, this site should be taken into consideration. Personal Note: 27 miles is too long for light rail, this distance is much more palatable utilizing a commuter rail network with fewer stops.
- MLS? Soccer is not specifically mentioned in the memorandum, though “sports facility” is loosely defined as being for “professional football activities and operations or similar uses and organizations.” The latest scoop is Tepper would prefer an in-town location for their training facility, possibly Eastland Mall, and the MLS has been adamant that it would like all stadiums to be in large urban population centers.
For me, the biggest takeaway from the memorandum is not the practice facility itself, but how Tepper intends to use the land to diversify his investment in the Panthers. The memorandum describes a plan that paints broad enough strokes that Tepper could really do whatever he wants with it – within the laws of the city of Rock Hill, and the state of South Carolina.
It’s clear that he wants to create a 365 day a year entertainment business, instead of one that is only relevant on gameday.