Ever since David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers last year, rumors have swirled about where he’d eventually build a replacement for Bank of America Stadium, one of the oldest facilities in the NFL. In a roundtable with reporters Monday night, Tepper specifically called out the nearby Charlotte Pipe & Foundry as one viable option.
Charlotte Pipe & Foundry has been melting scrap metal into pipe for more than a century. The manufacturer’s plant sits on a sprawling 55-acre property on Clarkson Street, on the outskirts of Uptown and almost literally in the shadow of the Panthers’ current home.
That’s one of the main reasons why it’s a logical fit for a new stadium site. It’s one of the only pieces of property in Uptown — and Tepper has said emphatically he wants to stay Uptown — that could fit an NFL stadium.
Plus, the property is walkable to bars, restaurants, hotels, and the eventual Gateway Station. Tepper told reporters this summer he wants to make the Charlotte the sports and entertainment capital of the Carolinas, with a new NFL stadium as its centerpiece.
The Panthers say they’ve had “casual discussions” with Charlotte Pipe officials about the property. This is the first time the team’s owner has explicitly mentioned the Charlotte Pipe site to the media, though.
Charlotte Pipe is keenly aware of the speculation surrounding its site. Google “Charlotte Pipe & Foundry,” and you’ll notice that the first few news stories that pop up are ones about Tepper’s Q&A on Monday.
Problem is, even though Charlotte Pipe & Foundry is considering relocating its foundry to Stanly County, the longtime manufacturer hasn’t made a decision yet about a move. Its land uptown isn’t even for sale yet. Any eventual Panthers development on the site is at least a decade away — if it even happens at all.
“We’re not concerned with any of the rumors or any of that. That has no (bearing) on what we decide,” Charlotte Pipe spokesman Brad Muller tells the Agenda.
In a city where salaries are increasingly really high or really low, Charlotte Pipe is one of the few companies that employs hundreds of well-paid blue collar manufacturing workers near Uptown. Its departure from the neighborhood, while not imminent, would mark a big shift for the longtime local employer.
W. Frank Dowd started the Charlotte Pipe & Foundry in 1901 in order to provide cast-iron fittings and piping throughout the newly industrialized South.
The original foundry started with about two dozen workers, and grew its workforce about fourfold in its first five years, according to Charlotte Observer clippings from the early 20th century.
“The Charlotte Pipe & Foundry Company is one of the most successful of the many new enterprises of the city. A large force of workmen is employed, and the men receive good salaries and are excellent citizens,” the Observer wrote in an April 1906 story about a fire that occurred at the company’s first plant, in Dilworth.
In October of that year, the company purchased about 45 acres in its current spot, and soon expanded its operations.
“For many decades, it was Charlotte’s biggest industry,” local historian Tom Hanchett says of Charlotte Pipe’s industrial manufacturing operations. “We often think of Charlotte as a textile city and now a banking city.”
Over time, Charlotte Pipe & Foundry added onto its facility and expanded capacity. It employs about 500 people today, Muller says. The company doesn’t disclose salaries, but Muller describes the positions as “good paying middle-class manufacturing jobs.”
CEO Roddey Dowd Jr., great-grandson of the company’s founder, was unavailable for comment. And yes, the Dowd family are the benefactors of the YMCA that bears their name just over a mile away in Dilworth.
Charlotte Pipe has been contemplating a move from its current spot for years.
Last spring, the state passed an incentives bill that would benefit “heritage manufacturing employers” looking to relocate at least 400 of their employees to rural counties, or ones with populations of less than 63,000. The measure, Senate Bill 505, was signed into law and allows the manufacturer to benefit from the state’s Job Maintenance and Capital Development Fund, which pays annual grants to qualified businesses.
Stanly County had a population of 62,000 in 2018, according to census data.
The company already owns land out in Stanly County, which is one county over to the east of Mecklenburg. Charlotte Pipe bought about 40 acres out there in 2008, thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the state’s nonprofit Golden LEAF Foundation, the Observer wrote in February 2009.
The company had the land rezoned for industrial use soon after, but hasn’t moved any operations out there yet.
If it does, a new plant will take years to build.
“It’s a major investment and we’re not in a position to even really talk about what we would eventually do with that property until we decide if we’re even going to move,” Muller says. Even it moves its foundry from Uptown, Charlotte Pipe would still maintain its corporate offices on Randolph Road, Muller says.
It would also take years to do the requisite site work for a new NFL stadium on the Charlotte Pipe land.
Knocking down the existing foundry plant, doing environmental analysis, grading, rezoning — all would take a considerable amount of time. It’s also possible that the Panthers pick another spot for a new stadium. They could, theoretically, tear down Bank of America Stadium and build a multibillion-dollar replacement in its place — if they figured out a new home field to use during the construction process.
Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund manager, told reporters this week that Bank of America Stadium needs “major renovations” in the short term. Some include new locker rooms, a center tunnel, and accommodations for Major League Soccer camera angles. That work could begin sometime in the next few months.
The Panthers declined to comment further on the Charlotte Pipe land. But Tepper has said that long term, a new state-of-the-art stadium with a roof is necessary to replace the aging Bank of America Stadium. Such amenities will make the stadium a place that can be used 365 days a year for not just NFL games, but also major events like Final Fours and big concerts.
But first, Tepper has a few other items on his plate. That includes, of course, figuring out a formula for the team’s on-the-field success, actually landing an MLS team, and finishing construction on the team’s new headquarters in Rock Hill.
It’s possible Tepper was talking off the cuff on Monday when he called out Charlotte Pipe & Foundry. But it’s also noteworthy that just about every other time he’s chosen to talk about big plans publicly — a practice bubble, establishing a presence in both Carolinas, going after an MLS team — he has worked to make them a reality.
Correction: A previous version of this story should have included “Jr.” after CEO Roddey Dowd’s name. He is the great-grandson of the company’s founder.