During this fall’s mayoral campaign, Republican Edwin Peacock has criticized the way his Democratic opponent Patrick Cannon and City Council members negotiated with the Carolina Panthers in closed session, away from public scrutiny.
On Thursday, during a mayoral forum at UNC Charlotte, Peacock went further, saying he wasn’t just against the process but also against the city’s decision to give the team $87.5 million in exchange for a six-year commitment to stay in Charlotte.
Peacock’s position goes against not only that of his opponent, Cannon, but it’s also the opposite of former Mayor Anthony Foxx, current Mayor Patsy Kinsey and all other city elected officials. Peacock’s election could change the whole dynamic between the city and the Panthers, as a second round of negotiations could begin as soon as 2015.
New negotiations could come soon
In April, council members unanimously approved giving the Panthers $87.5 million for stadium renovations in exchange for a firm six-year commitment that the team would remain in Charlotte.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble has said he expects the city to begin negotiating with the team before that deal is up. That could be in four or five years. There is also a provision in the contract that says if the city brings an additional $50 million to the Panthers before Aug. 1, 2015, the city and the team can begin discussions about lengthening the so-called “tether” binding the Panthers to Charlotte.
The city’s next mayor will have a wide range of options as to how to engage the NFL team.
Peacock or Cannon could be out front, leading the city’s negotiating position, or they could stay in the background, allowing city staff and council members to do the heavy lifting in negotiations.
Charlotte’s mayor does not usually vote with the council, though the mayor can veto council decisions.
When the city was negotiating with the Panthers earlier this year, Foxx was open in his desire to strike a deal with the team. During a council retreat in February, he recruited his friend, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, to tell council members they should support the Panthers. Reed’s position was that no city had “ever played chicken with an NFL team and won.”
For his part, Cannon asked to be recused from the vote on the Panthers because the parking management company he owns, E-Z Parking, does business with the Panthers. But he has said that he supports the council’s decision because the Panthers are important to the city’s identity and economy.
If elected, Peacock could voice his opposition to giving the Panthers more money in exchange for a longer commitment to stay in Charlotte. But he could allow council members to do as they please, and not veto their decision.
Or he could be a leader against any tax dollars going to the team, using his veto, or threatening to do so.
That was similar to the position Foxx took when council members debated giving the Charlotte Knights $8 million for a new uptown baseball stadium. Foxx said repeatedly he was “ambivalent” about helping the Knights and suggested he might veto the baseball plan unless council members would approve a Capital Improvement Program, which he considered more important. (In the end, council members approved the $8 million and Foxx didn’t use his veto.)
It’s also possible Peacock’s reluctance to help the Panthers could be used as leverage for the city, helping taxpayers get a better deal.
In a statement to the Observer, Peacock said: “It’s essential that Charlotte’s citizens have their voices heard in this discussion. We would hold meetings in the open and have a public hearing. We will do it well before the August 1, 2015 contractual deadline.”
When council members were considering a public-private partnership with the NFL team, some city staff members believed there was a distinct possibility that majority owner Jerry Richardson could sell the team to a buyer who would seek to move it to Los Angeles.
That possibility – whether real or contrived – may still be part of the second round of negotiations. The NFL hasn’t yet placed a new team in Los Angeles, which has been without pro football for 18 years.
Other Republicans running for office have been split on the issue.
Most have objected to how council members went about helping the team.
Council members met in closed session at least three times to discuss the deal and endorsed a plan to raise the prepared food and beverage tax from 1 percent to 2 percent over 30 years to pay for stadium renovations.
Supporting that tax increase very nearly derailed any plan to help the team.
Raising the tax for 30 years would have raised $1 billion, which was far more than the $145 million the team was seeking from the city.
The large tax increase turned off both Democratic and Republican state legislators. They rejected the 30-year tax hike plan, as well as a subsequent plan for a smaller tax increase over 15 years. After months of negotiations, they only voted to allow the city to use existing revenues from its Convention Center fund to help the team.
Instead of a 15-year deal to stay in Charlotte, as the city and team originally envisioned, the city had only enough money to land a six-year commitment.
At Thursday’s forum, Peacock criticized the decision to take money from the Convention Center, which he said is on the brink of landing large, more prestigious conventions.