Panthers owner needs tax breaks for SC practice field move

Panthers owner David Tepper is working with South Carolina government officials to possibly bring the team's practice facilities to South Carolina. (Getty)

With a proposal that would offer tax breaks to entice the Carolina Panthers to move their practice fields to South Carolina going down to the wire, owner David Tepper said he is fine with leaving them in North Carolina if he can’t get any public help.

Tepper said his idea to build a new team headquarters and practice fields along with a larger sports complex that could also include a stadium for a MLS team in South Carolina must get economic incentives or it makes no sense.

“Quite frankly, it’s going to cost us a lot of money to go down to South Carolina,” Tepper said.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has been an enthusiastic backer of a bill that would exempt Panthers players, coaches and employees from state income taxes for 15 years. The team could then spend the roughly $120 million it saves on the facility. There are other incentives, including a new interchange on a nearby interstate.

The proposal passed the South Carolina House less than two weeks after Tepper met with McMaster and legislative leaders in April. But it has stalled in the state Senate, where several members — both Democrats and Republicans — said a billionaire NFL owner doesn’t need taxpayer help. Critics also questioned whether state officials greatly inflated their estimate that the new facility would have a $3.8 billion impact.

“A guy doesn’t get $11.6 billion without taking advantage of his opposition,” said Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Democrat from Columbia.

The Panthers currently practice in Charlotte, North Carolina, near their stadium and about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of the South Carolina site. But the fields are outdoors. Last season, the Panthers had to move several practices to a hotel ballroom because of heavy rain.

Tepper wants to continue the Panthers’ “two states, one team” attitude that began when they played their inaugural season in 1995 at Clemson’s stadium while their stadium in Charlotte was being built. The team still holds training camp every summer at Wofford University in Spartanburg.

But without the tax breaks, Tepper said he can just put a temporary dome over the fields and expand and renovate the current team facility in Charlotte.

“You guys see the bubble going up, I have a cafeteria building, I will stay in Charlotte,” Tepper said . “I will stay home.”