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Rock Hill responds to Panthers site issue

Work at the Carolina Panthers' new practice/HQ site in Rock Hill is quiet as officials and team representatives hammer out money issues.
Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio
Work at the Carolina Panthers' new practice/HQ site in Rock Hill is quiet as officials and team representatives hammer out money issues.

Correction: Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun was incorrectly referred to as the city attorney.

The Rock Hill City Council met Monday for the first time since work at the near-billion-dollar Carolina Panthers site paused last week. Team owner David Tepper stopped work at the site amid claims that the city failed to issue close to $225 million in bonds that would help pay for city infrastructure improvements (not the Panthers’ facility).

In a statement last week, the team said: “Given the economic realities, the difficult but prudent decision has been made to pause the project. The on-going work will continue with our partners to find an economically acceptable solution for all parties to continue this project in Rock Hill.”

Last week, York County Councilman Bump Roddey, who represents Rock Hill on the County Council and who was a candidate for mayor last year, called for the Panthers to tap into the county’s AAA credit rating. According to Moody’s, Rock Hill’s credit rating is Aa3 – considered high-quality and subject to very low credit risk.

“Let’s work together,” Roddey said during last week’s County Council meeting. “Let’s avoid any possible disasters down the road,”

The stoppage and criticism has had the effect of calling into question the city’s ability to support such a massive project. Negotiations about this have also been baked into the project since its official beginnings in 2019.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Mayor John Gettys said that Rock Hill has done all it has agreed to do, saying – twice – “Facts are stubborn things.”

Gettys said Rock Hill will continue to work in good faith with the team in any way that moves the project forward without risking the city’s credit rating.

City Manager David Vehaun said the Panthers are asking for something the city never negotiated.

“One real sticking point we’ve had over the years is the repeated request for the city to backstop and guarantee the debt,” Viand said. “From almost our very first meetings in 2019, we were very clear that the city would not, should not, could not backstop this debt.”

Vehaun called the project among the most complicated he’s seen in 33 years, adding that the multi-year development plans the team has submitted to the city “were not sufficient to allow us to go to market, and that slowed the ability to issue as the Panthers looked for other options.”

Last year, the Panthers began exploring other options by asking the county to lend its credit rating to the project.

In a statement, York County Public Information Officer Greg Suskin said, “There have been meetings, but I can’t comment on what’s been discussed. At this time, York County Government isn’t making any additional statements beyond what we released earlier [last] week.”

Vehaun said Rock Hill was about two weeks from issuing bonds before Tepper hit the pause button.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.