No, Rob Youngblood doesn’t believe there was any sort of announcement Tuesday that the Carolina Panthers will build a team practice facility and business offices in York County.
On Tuesday, the featured speaker at a chamber function in Rock Hill was Carolina Panthers radio broadcaster Mick Mixon. His remarks included the possibility of a new practice facility for the Charlotte-based team. Some in the audience suggested a site in York County.
“I believe that he was speaking hypothetically,” said Youngblood, president of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce. “When he said ‘here,’ it is not clear that he meant York County.”
But Youngblood wouldn’t be opposed to that sort of announcement.
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“Absolutely,” Youngblood said. “As president of the chamber, I hope it’s true. It would be great even to be considered for something like that.”
Radio station WRHI recorded the roughly half hour speech Mixon gave, and has it posted online at wrhi.com.
About halfway through that audio, Mixon begins two minutes of “What if I told you?” rhetoric with possibilities from the Panthers creating a worldwide brand and having the team website translated into several languages, to Bank of America Stadium renovations, a roof on the stadium, a new stadium, redevelopment of the current practice site near the stadium and in-stadium betting.
One comment from the audio stood out to some in attendance.
“What if I told you that a couple hundred acres somewhere near here is going to be purchased very soon,” Mixon said, “and a state-of-the-art practice facility with restaurants, shopping, banking, condos, apartments is going to be built and the business center of the Carolina Panthers will move here?”
Theron Pickens, chamber board chairman, attended the lunch event and said interest perked at mention of a new practice facility that could be in York County.
“However, I think to some degree he was alluding to the fact that the new ownership has some deeper pockets and has a vision that goes beyond the City of Charlotte,” Pickens said.
According to the WRHI audio online and confirmations from Youngblood and Pickens, Mixon made the practice facility comment in discussing the more than $10 billion net worth of David Tepper, who bought the team earlier this year from founding majority owner Jerry Richardson. Mixon spoke about the revenue and energy Tepper brings, creating untold possibility for the team. Mixon told the audience a friend of his mentioned a hypothetical practice facility “somewhere near Carowinds” just upon learning Tepper would be the new owner.
“I said, yeah, or, maybe he’ll buy Carowinds and build it there,” Mixon can be heard saying on the tape.
Just as Mixon was making a point there, not that the team would buy Carowinds, but that the new owner brings tremendous resources, chamber leaders say the practice facility and office comments were in the same vein.
“He was stating hypotheticals,” Youngblood said.
Still the comments were interesting enough for Youngblood to speak with at least one county official to inquire whether anything was in the works. Youngblood said he’s not aware of any concrete plans.
News partner WSOC-TV spoke with York County leaders who said they aren’t aware of any active progress on a site here. That same report states the Panthers referred to the possibility only as rumors, and Mixon emailed the station saying he doesn’t know of specific plans the team may have.
“It’s an exciting thought,” Youngblood said. “It was interesting that it was mentioned. I think York County would be open to that.”
There are reasons a new site in York County could make sense.
Fort Mill and Rock Hill are the nearest South Carolina spots with I-77 access to Charlotte. And South Carolina is known to provide tax incentives to bring corporate headquarters, manufacturing sites and other businesses to the state.
Just this year, the South Carolina Department of Commerce announced seven such additions in York County. Quality Electronic Manufacturing Services, Linde Hydraulics, Wheel Pros, Schuff Steel, RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing, Meritor and Fomas combine for $88.2 million in investment and 1,761 new jobs.
Sites like Nutramax Laboratories, Synergy Steel and Sharonview Federal Credit Union in Lancaster County, along with Carolina Poly and ShayoNano in Chester County, add another $104.5 million in investment and 594 new jobs.
All of those sites relied on a combination of state and local economic incentives.
If there is a reason the Panthers might not fit in York County, it could be the same issue plaguing other businesses — roads.
Areas off I-77 have traffic congestion now, and business leaders say it impacts companies in some areas.
Youngblood said traffic is a concern, but the area has plenty to offer if the Panthers search for a new site.
“We certainly would be interested if they are looking for a new site, and we hope that they do give us a look,” he said.
Pickens said the Fort Mill area, and York County, would be willing if and when significant upgrades are needed to create the state-of-the-art facility the Panthers would want.
“From a business perspective, I think most of us would all agree that having a quality program like the Carolina Panthers organization relocate its operations into York County would be welcomed into our community,” Pickens said. “These kinds of developments tend to have a very positive impact on a community like ours and prove very beneficial economically to everyone involved and stimulates additional business support and infrastructure.”
A professional sports team in York County isn’t unprecedented. For years the Charlotte Hornets and Bobcats used a site near Fort Mill for their practice facility. Right beside that building, off Deerfield Drive where the SouthBridge development is planned now, stood the baseball stadium home of the Charlotte Knights before the team moved to Charlotte in 2014.