New MLS expansion team Charlotte FC renovation deal with city unravels

Charlotte FC (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Charlotte FC (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

There’s a little trouble in paradise for Charlotte FC

The surprise MLS expansion team, Charlotte FC, has hit a wall in relation with the city government in Charlotte, NC. That’s at least temporarily. The City of Charlotte, with county help, had pledged $110 million in reimbursement incentives for the team’s Eastland Mall site development, plus renovations to Bank of America Stadium.

The stadium is where NFL Charlotte Panthers play. Both NFL and MLS teams are owned by Dave Tepper. The development of the abandoned Eastland Mall site was to include the 20,000-square-foot Tepper Sports & Entertainment. The Tepper part wasn’t in the City Council presentation on Oct. 26. At the same time, the city dropped incentives by 68% to $35 million.

With the MLS team headquarters moving out, the Charlotte FC player development academy will operate from there. It’s not clear which got pulled first – the Charlotte FC MLS headquarters or the $75 million. FC won’t be playing soccer until 2022. But things are rough for the team while the organization and City of Charlotte aren’t playing well, at least until a revised deal is signed.

With the recent moves by FC and the city government, the development project is now subject to a new agreement. The City Council will decide on taxpayers’ responsibility for the project when the panel votes on a new agreement on Nov. 9. The Charlotte FC came out of nowhere to claim the 30th spot for a team in MLS last December. They begin play with fellow expansion club St. Louis in 2022.

Heads were spinning among MLS hopefuls in Detroit. A major objection to that city’s bid to play at NFL Ford Field. The Ford family committed to installing features there to ensure a quality soccer experience. Detroit supporters had long met the MLS requirement for superstar owners. That ownership group included Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

Yet when Charlotte came forward with a bid, MLS governors decided the league could be satisfied the team would play in a downtown stadium. Then they left it at that. Now the deal with the city government to make necessary renovations to the Panthers NFL stadium has been tossed up into the air.

If the City Council approves the revised agreement on Nov. 9, its total commitment to the project would be up to $39 million. Mecklenburg County also has to approve a portion of up to $15 million. Tracy Dodson, Charlotte’s assistant city manager, said focusing the site on the player academy actually increases activity there. The 11 fields would be available to the community, as well.

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Camps, clinics, festivals, and tournaments would be operated by Tepper Sports. It’s expected that the team headquarters would move to a planned sports complex for the Panthers. But the Tepper organization hasn’t announced that decision yet. Construction at the site of the former mall should begin this winter. But until the deal gets signed, expect some nail-biting.