Billy Dunlap hasn’t been too involved in the Carolina Panthers practice site decision. But if it keeps moving forward, he’ll be plenty involved.
As South Carolina senators passed a tax break bill Thursday that could smooth the path for the Charlotte NFL team to set up a practice site in Rock Hill, the York County visitor bureau CEO recalled his visit to the Frisco, Texas, area last week to see the Dallas Cowboys facility. The bill now must get final approval by the S.C. House.
“I’ve seen what the Cowboys did,” Dunlap said. “If the Panthers do anything close to that, it will be something that Rock Hill has never seen before.”
It’s not just about the football team training. In Dallas, Dunlap said, it’s about the retail shops, dining and development that grows around a team site. It’s also about facility tours. In Texas, Dunlap saw a place people could come spend a weekend.
“It’s the hotel and conference center that comes with it,” he said. “It’s the experience of going to the facility.”
The Senate decision Thursday gave Dunlap optimism about what could come to York County.
“I’m sure sometime it will filter down to us,” he said, noting he’s not yet in serious talks with the team or legislators making decisions. “We’re excited about the news. It’s going to be an unprecedented development for York County.”
Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys sat through city budgeting meetings Thursday, but kept tabs on the decision in Columbia.
“We were all in the room working on (the budget),” he said. “They we were getting texts on progress, taking calls, making calls.”
Gettys said decisions still have to be made in Charlotte and Columbia. But, he said, for their part Rock Hill leaders are committed to creating something “bigger and better than anything anybody can imagine.”
Gettys said he did speak with Panthers owner David Tepper specifically on the Cowboys practice facilities, in thinking through what Rock Hill may be able to offer.
“This will be a wonderful, wonderful addition to our city footprint,” Gettys said.
York County has seen considerable residential growth in recent years, but also an array of commercial growth. If the Panthers move their practice site here, Dunlap said, that growth could reach a new level.
“You’ve got a lot of commercial development,” he said. “It is a true game changer for York County.”
State Rep. Raye Felder, who supported the incentive package in the house, said York County has been patient as industry growth elsewhere in the state occurred, with BMW, Volvo, Mercedes, Amazon and others. She said she sees the potential Panthers move as a major step not just for Rock Hill, but for the region.
“The practice facilities and corporate offices will have a major influence on future economic development along the I-77 corridor that will continue to make York County attractive to companies both nationally and internationally,” Felder said.