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Panthers/Rock Hill deal officially dead following bankruptcy filing

Work stopped on the facility almost three months ago. Now, contractors who've labored here will be paid off. What will happen to this site now is unknown.
Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio
Work stopped on the facility almost three months ago. Now, contractors who've labored here will be paid off. What will happen to this site now is unknown.

The Carolina Panthers officially are not coming to Rock Hill. On Wednesday, GT Real Estate, the business entity behind the football team’s project in South Carolina, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware.

The filing allows the entity to start paying the site’s contractors and other creditors, through $20 million from DT Sports Holding, LLC, according to a statement from GT Real Estate. Those payouts are still subject to court approval.

The statement from GT Real Estate states: “In recent weeks, GTRE has been confronted with various claims, some valid and some not, from vendors, contractors and other third parties, including York County, S.C. GTRE is taking this action to ensure legitimate claims are processed as fairly and expeditiously as possible under a court-supervised process, and to achieve the project’s orderly and safe wind-down. GTRE intends to resolve its legitimate obligations.”

While not the final shoe to drop in the Panthers/Rock Hill saga, the filing does punctuate the depths to which the relationship between officials and team executives has sunk since its optimistic beginnings in 2019.

Word of the filing is also far from a surprise. Team owner David Tepper stopped construction on what would have been an $800 million site in March and has said almost zero about the project since – except to say that Rock Hill did not live up to certain bond obligations, to the tune of a quarter-billion dollars.

Rock Hill officials have maintained that they did live up to these obligations. They, along with several officials at the (York) county and state level, have repeatedly expressed interest in continuing talks with Tepper. Tepper, at a press conference in April, said he would not have “back and forth” public discussions about the project and expressed an interest in sitting down with the city to figure things out.

But such expressions went nowhere, leading to increasingly sour feelings all around. While Tepper went mum on the project, city, county, and state officials lobbed potshots, waited patiently, defended actions, and, eventually, stopped talking about the deal too.

On social media, rumor and speculation questioned the true reasons behind the stoppage of work at the site just north of Exit 79 on I-77. The May 4 resignation of Tepper Sports & Entertainment CEO Nick Kelly only added to speculation about what Tepper is doing with the team.

But as for what’s really going on, that’s not something Tepper is making public.

What is for sure is that Tepper put $175 million into the project, on land that he owns; and that the future of the site is uncertain. City officials have said that if Tepper were to bail on the site, he would be responsible for any necessary environmental protection actions. On Thursday morning, there were some vehicles inside the opened gates of the facility, but apart from one security guard, there were no other people in view at the site.

Work is continuing, however, on a new I-77 highway exchange that was intended to funnel traffic to and from the site off Eden Terrace, behind River Park.

City officials have maintained that the death of the project would not mean anything significant to city residents, who are not on the hook for any public money towards the construction of the facility.

York County, however, claims it will be waiting on $21 million from GTRE. A county statement issued Thursday states:

"York County Government is listed as one of the creditors in the bankruptcy action. GTRE entered into an agreement with York County to upgrade a section of Mt. Gallant Road, which borders the headquarters/practice facility property. York County contributed $21 million toward the Mt. Gallant project. We believe those funds will be returned in full with interest, and County taxpayers are protected. We were prepared for this action, and fully expect a positive outcome for our citizens."

The team was offered huge tax breaks – effectively zero taxes collected from the site for 30 years, provided Tepper paid to build the facility on his dime – but such offers went nowhere.

Tepper, of course, has a lot of dimes. Forbes cites Tepper’s net worth at $16.7 billion. For perspective, that’s the current budget of Kansas.

This story was amended to include the statement issued by York County regarding Mt. Gallant Road.

For further coverage of the Panthers project in Rock Hill, click these links:

Panthers move to terminate old agreements with Rock Hill; city, county 'optimistic'

Rock Hill responds to Panthers site issue

From 2019: How Might the Carolina Panthers Transform South Carolina?

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.