The biggest cities in South Carolina are standing with Rock Hill in asking for state help that would be critical in landing the Carolina Panthers’ training site.
The City of Rock Hill tweeted an image Tuesday morning of a letter signed by the mayors of Rock Hill, Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Myrtle Beach. The mayors of “the major tourism destination cities in South Carolina,” the leader reads, ask state senators to support a bill aimed at incentives for professional sports teams.
Discussion of the Panthers building a training site in York County goes back at least to last fall, when team radio broadcaster Mick Mixon mentioned the possibility to business leaders in Rock Hill. By March team owner David Tepper met with state leaders, leading Gov. Henry McMaster and local state representatives to hold a press conference announcing proposed tax incentive legislation that could help lure the team to move their practice site from Charlotte.
Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys later confirmed a Rock Hill site is in discussion. Sources stated the proposed site is one just off I-77 between the North Carolina state line and Dave Lyle Boulevard exit.
The incentive bill has been held up in the state senate amid concerns from Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who questioned whether incentives for the team would benefit the state economically. Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys attended a Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation board meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, Harpootlian took to the senate floor to discuss the Panthers situation.
The letter from the five mayors urges senators to move the legislation forward. The mayors point to more than $22 billion generated statewide by tourism in 2017 and 10 percent of all state jobs created by tourism.
“At its core,” they wrote, “the opportunity provided to the City of Rock Hill by the Carolina Panthers is a result of, and integral to, the continued growth of this economic engine.”
The mayors point to statewide economic growth cities provide through tourism, from beaches to sports tournaments. They see incentives for professional sports teams as an opportunity for the legislature to expand an industry -- as it has with aerospace, auto and others.
“The impact on Rock Hill and York County in the specific instance before us today will be felt for generations to come,” the mayors wrote.
The Panthers moving practice facilities into South Carolina could mean anything from hotels and shopping to a medical center or light rail extension from Charlotte, McMaster and other elected officials said in recent weeks.
But incentives are part of the decision.
The team practicing in South Carolina while playing games in Charlotte could mean, for instance, players wouldn’t work enough hours under current South Carolina law to count as full-time employees. State incentives to companies, in this case the Panthers, are based on a variety of factors including jobs generated. So the Panthers possibly could get credit for generating the jobs.
The team hasn’t officially announced plans to move practice facilities to Rock Hill, but the mayors are looking at it as a serious possibility. A source close to the team did tell the Herald last month a practice site — here or elsewhere — could include a 10,000-seat stadium that could be used for high school football when the NFL team isn’t using it.
If the team does move to Rock Hill, the mayors wrote, it won’t just be Rock Hill benefiting.
“It’s not just the Panthers who are the winners by the passage of this legislation — it’s the people of South Carolina,” they wrote.