Carolina Panthers get a big tax break on their stadium following county review

Carolina Panthers get a big tax break on their stadium following county review
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Most property owners experienced sticker shock last year following Mecklenburg County’s tax revaluation. And many appealed it. But few appeals were quite as dramatic as the one from the Carolina Panthers.

Last spring, the county assessed the tax value of the stadium to be $572 million, a staggering increase from the 2011-assessed value of $135 million. The Panthers appealed that valuation, and following an informal review, the county slashed the valuation to $472 million last fall. In January, the county staff recommended another revised valuation of $384 million.

On Friday, following a five-hour-long hearing, the county’s Board of Equalization and Review determined the stadium’s new tax value to be $215 million — a reduction of $357 million from the original 2019 assessment. That means the Panthers will save nearly $3.5 million per year on taxes on the stadium.

In dollar terms, the Panthers received the biggest reduction in their valuation this cycle, says Mecklenburg County tax assessor Ken Joyner.

Zoom out: The revaluation was for the stadium building itself, not the 35 acres it sits on. The city owns that land, and the Panthers rent it for $1 per year. Thanks to a new law that took effect in 2018, the team no longer pays taxes on that public land they lease. That saves them roughly $350,000 per year.

As the Panthers have noted in their arguments for a lower tax value, Bank of America Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL. In 1993, the team, under then-owner Jerry Richardson, sold $150 million in permanent seat licenses (PSLs) to help finance construction of the stadium.

Over the years, the city pitched in millions in public funds to pay for stadium renovations.

The most recent round, which was done from 2013-2018, included $87.5 million from the city. Upgrades included new video and ribbon boards, new escalators, and concourse improvements.

What the team argued: Yvonne Broszus, who has studied NFL stadiums such as the one in San Francisco, said stadium renovations do not extend the “economic viability” of the facilities. The upgrades are simply to keep up with NFL standards, she added. 

“If you’re going to compare the (Bank of America Stadium) property to new modern stadiums, you have to recognize that there’s a lot of functional obsolescence,” Broszus told the board Friday.

Overall, she said, the Panthers’ stadium is “in average condition.” She cited a number of reasons:

  • The rubber membrane that holds together sections of the concrete stadium has become brittle and need repairs.
  • The stadium lacks storage for large-scale non-NFL events. A Beyoncé concert, for instance, could require 100 truckloads of equipment. The Panthers don’t have space for that now, Broszus noted, so they’d rely on offsite storage.
  • The seats are the original ones from the 1990s.
  • The stadium lacks certain elements common in new stadiums that enhance the fan experience. For instance, fans in field-level club seats in newer stadiums can watch players up close as they enter the field.

What the county said in response: Joyner, the county’s tax assessor, said that the city’s investments in the stadium have helped to extend its lifespan.

Contrary to what the Panthers say, Joyner said, the county believes the stadium to have about 17 years left.

“It is more modern today than it was in 1996,” Joyner said.

Is it finished now, or will the Panthers want an even bigger reduction? The Panthers entered Friday’s session saying the stadium should be valued at $87.5 million. So even though the $215 million is a significant drop from the original valuation, Panthers chief operating officer Mark Hart would not say whether the team plans is through with its appeals.

“We have made very good progress today,” Hart told reporters. “We just want the opportunity, like other homeowners and taxpayers in the county, to have a fair hearing, a fair assessment, and we got that today. We’ve got a little bit more work to do.”

Looking ahead: In December, Major League Soccer officials awarded Charlotte the league’s No. 30 expansion team. As part of the agreement, the city is committing $110 million, in part for Bank of America Stadium renovations to accommodate MLS.

Panthers owner David Tepper has said his goal is to get a new retractable-dome stadium within the next decade. Such a facility could draw Final Fours and other large-scale sporting events. 

The cost of new stadiums is mounting, though. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which opened in 2017, cost about $1.6 billion. And like other pro sports owners, Tepper would likely seek public funding for such a project.

“The economy’s big enough for a revenue tax, a hotel revenue increase that would go a long way to help pay for a new stadium,” Tepper told the Sports Business Journal last summer.

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