State lawmakers making play for Panthers practice facility

BY RACHEL PITTMAN
rachel@theitem.com
Posted 3/17/19

State lawmakers introduced new legislation on Wednesday that would pave the way financially for the Carolina Panthers to move their practice facility and offices to South Carolina.

South Carolina is in the running to be the new location of the …

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State lawmakers making play for Panthers practice facility

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State lawmakers introduced new legislation on Wednesday that would pave the way financially for the Carolina Panthers to move their practice facility and offices to South Carolina.

South Carolina is in the running to be the new location of the team's headquarters as of a Wednesday meeting at the Governor's Mansion when Panthers owner David Tepper, Gov. Henry McMaster and other state lawmakers - including Sumter's own state Rep. Murrell Smith - discussed a partial relocation.

"I was very encouraged after the meeting," Smith told The Sumter Item. "We're in discussion about something that would be a great investment in our state."

Currently, the Panthers practice outside the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Moving the team's practice location would give the players the bonus of an indoor facility and would also bring economic growth to South Carolina.

However, the players would not practice enough hours to be considered full-time employees in South Carolina, meaning they would be cut off from state tax credits and other incentives.

This legislation was introduced to begin the process of exempting the Panthers players from this rule. McMaster and other lawmakers said in a press conference on Wednesday that they would support the legislation.

"There is now legislation in both the House and Senate to begin the process of payrolling a professional team," Smith said. "It's highly unique that the executive branch of our state government as well as House and Senate leadership have gathered in support of this - it could be a real win for South Carolina."

Smith chairs the House Ways and Means Committee where the House legislation that would make way for the Panthers in South Carolina will start out. The Republican said he has already assigned the House bill to a subcommittee.

No deal was finalized in Wednesday's meeting, but Smith said there is "strong mutual interest" on the parts of both Tepper and South Carolina. If the team does decide to partially relocate, York and Lancaster counties are being considered as potential sites for the new facility. This area is located approximately 20 miles from Bank of America Stadium.

The headquarters complex could include a medical center, restaurants and hotels and would also bring about 150 jobs to the state, according to McMaster.

"This isn't just about football," Smith said. "This is a business deal - not unlike what Jerry Jones did for Texas with the Dallas Cowboys."

If Tepper does decide to build a training facility in South Carolina instead of in North Carolina, it would not be the first time the Panthers trade Carolinas. Former owner and Wofford College alum Jerry Richardson, who sold the team to Tepper in 2018, hosted the Panthers' training camp at Wofford in Spartanburg for several years.

"It's always been one team, two states," Smith said, referencing a classic Panthers motto. "I think now is the time to make this a reality."

At Wednesday's press conference, it wasn't clear whether North Carolina would make a counteroffer to keep the facility and offices.

"We're not concerned about that. We are thinking about South Carolina," McMaster said at the press conference. "We know we can outrun anyone on the field."

The hearing for the House legislation that would provide the Panthers players with tax credits and make other financial preparations for the team will have its first hearing next week.