‘Iconic’: What the Carolina Panthers want everyone to see in Rock Hill. And when.

Someday, Mark Hart expects the whole world to know Rock Hill by the buildings his team plans to erect.

“We want our facility in this community to have an iconic presence,” said the Carolina Panthers vice president and COO, imagining broadcasts from ESPN and major networks covering the team. “When they see the images, everybody in the world knows what this stuff looks like.”

On Friday, Hart shared the vision with more than 200 Rock Hill business leaders at an economic development retreat at the new Sports and Event Center. Many were details the team shared in recent private meetings with the city, York County and the local school district. All related to a more than 200-acre site on I-77, between its Cherry Road and Dave Lyle Boulevard intersections.

“A year ago, we didn’t know that the Carolina Panthers would be coming to Rock Hill,” said Mayor John Gettys. “What the Panthers see as their future is intertwined with what we know to be our present and future here in Rock Hill.”

Not all details are set, but what’s clear is Rock Hill will host concerts, events, new business and other activities once the Panthers arrive.

“Sometimes when you talk about the Panthers practice facility, or NFL practice facilities, there’s always a misunderstanding about what it is,” Hart said. “We faced that early on. People think well, it’s just a couple of practice fields.”

The total plan involves just less than 4 million square feet of developed space. About half would be research development or office space. The team headquarters and training site is more than 540,000 square feet. Likely apartment and hotel space would add another 1 million square feet, with 50 % more as commercial or live/work space.

The plan continues an NFL trend toward accessible, multi-use sites like newer ones serving the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.

“You’re talking about things that are massive in scale,” Hart said.

The first projects to start are the headquarters and training site, and about 100,000 square feet of research development or office space across from it at the center of the property. It will have indoor and outdoor fields, healthcare and training venues.

The site will open by the start of the 2022 NFL season.

“It is the first phase,” Hart said. “It is the day one to a much larger development for things like mixed use, residential, corporate headquarters, hotels, lots of other things.”

Just after those projects, but also in the first phase of overall development, comes about 1.4 million square feet of research development/office, commercial, multi-family housing and hotel. Those projects surround the earlier work, though some start to stretch toward the interstate on the northern and southern ends of the project.

“You start to see fill in with uses, other corporate, hotel and we’re saying one or two major corporate tenants along the highway,” Hart said.

The first phase will take up to seven years. The second phase falls in the eight- to 13-year timeframe, with phase three including everything beyond that point.

Phase two is more than 1 million square feet mixed with research development/office, commercial, live/work and multi-family housing. The third phase is 850,000 square feet and includes many of those same uses.

“That, quite frankly, is a very realistic development schedule,” Hart said.

The team will work through zoning, land use, development and incentive agreements through December. The site still needs to be annexed, whether by the current owner or the team, to become part of Rock Hill. Closing should come in February.

Site clearing and construction would then begin in March 2020, with opening day set for July 2022. Hart would like to see opening by training camp that year, but expects it by the start of that football season.

“Come hell or high water, we’re going to be open for business by the time these guys are ready for the regular season in August 2022,” Hart said.

Some plans are still taking shape. There will be sidewalks and bike paths. There’s been talk of building design incorporating claw marks. Flexible space could host music festivals, concerts, corporate events, national tours, youth teams or “perhaps even a professional team,” Hart said.

An outdoor field will be known as The Park. The idea is it can host a football practice, or a soccer tournament or concert. It could have a draft night party similar to past events in Uptown Charlotte. It’s right beside the massive indoor building, The Pavilion. One idea involves video boards on the side of the Pavilion for use at events at the Park.

“Obviously we can’t have an NFL game here,” Hart said, “but we just want to show that there’s going to be light, video, sound. It’s going to be an immersive experience.”

The Piazza is an area outside the fields where the public can gather.

“Regardless of the building design, we want atriums that if the team’s not practicing or the team’s not there, that people can walk through,” Hart said.

Hart said Rock Hill isn’t Charlotte, and design features will recognize the difference.

“It’s a different fabric,” he said. “And our development is going to reflect that fabric. We’re not going to develop and pave over every square inch.”

The site does, though, intend to be a major economic driver.

“We want to be flexible enough that we’re in business seven days a week,” Hart said. “It’s more than just training football players, coaches and staff.”

Much of that additional opportunity will come from entertainment.

“We want to make it an entertainment destination,” Hart said. “Now, I’ll be candid. I don’t know exactly what that entertainment destination is going to be.”

Those still developing plans are part of why, along with the sheer size of development, it will take more than a decade to build.

“If we’re going to do this master plan, we’re going to do it right from day one,” Hart said. “We’re going to develop it so that its perfect.”

With so much planned, Hart stressed the vision for the new site is for it to fit into the team’s larger goal.

“The most important thing is to give our team its best chance to win championships,” Hart said.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.
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