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Greenville Business Magazine

Panthers Audible to S.C. expected to bring gridiron-sized benefits to York County

By Cindy Landrum

With the undeveloped tract of land on Interstate 77 covered with trees and not buildings, it’s difficult to picture the Carolina Panthers’ new team headquarters and training facility in Rock Hill and the impact it will have on the city and York County.

But Visit York County President and CEO Billy Dunlap said The Star in Frisco, Texas, provides an excellent example.

When it became clear the Carolina Panthers were considering Rock Hill for its headquarters, Dunlap traveled to Frisco to see The Star, the 91-acre campus of the Dallas Cowboys’ world headquarters. 

The development includes a 12,000-seat indoor stadium that serves as the team’s practice facility, a 300-room hotel, a sports training and medicine facility, and restaurants and retail. The Star, announced in 2013, was the beginning of what was known as Frisco’s $5 Billion Mile because, as the name says, a mile-long stretch of the Dallas North Tollway attracted more than $5 billion in investment.

“I wanted a firsthand perspective on what this kind of development looks like and what it means to that community,” he said. “When I left, I knew Rock Hill had never seen anything like it and knew (the Panthers’) development would completely change the face of this community.”

While there hasn’t been a study conducted on the impact of The Star since it opened, a report conducted by the Frisco Economic Development Corporation that year estimated its 30-year impact at $23.4 billion with over 4,500 jobs created and a tax benefit to local entities totaling more than $1.2 billion.

“The Star provides so many aspects of economic activity for Frisco,” said Marla Roe, Visit Frisco executive director. Not only is Ford Center able to accommodate a wide variety of events, the tours offered of the Dallas Cowboys headquarters and practice facility, coupled with the walkable dining, retail and entertainment district, positively impact the economic base of the city, she said.

“Cowboys fans from all over the U.S. and beyond travel to Frisco to see the team’s headquarters. Before, Frisco may not have been on their radar. These days Frisco is associated with the Dallas Cowboys brand and is constantly broadcast across sports and entertainment media outlets, bringing new attention to the city,” Roe said.

The Panthers had already received $160 million in incentives from the state.

A local incentive deal completed in late April calls for $225 million in public infrastructure such as bike and pedestrian paths, roadways and bridges for the project. Bonds will be issued for the improvements and paid back through future tax revenue.

According to the agreement, Rock Hill will forego all of its property tax revenue generated by the project for up to 30 years. The school district gives up 75 percent of its revenue, and York County gives up 65 percent, the agreement said. Once the bonds are repaid, each would receive all of its tax money generated from the project.

The project’s first phase includes $500 million in investment and 150 jobs. It is expected to include the headquarters, training facilities and a sports medicine center. Mascaro and Barton Malow are the contractors for the project, according to a notice of project commencement filed with the York County Register of Deeds office.

The Star in Frisco has hosted high school football games, a national Amway conference and the Conference USA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

Having a similar facility at the Panthers’ headquarters would give York County a shot to land events it can’t compete for now. A hotel with a conference center attached would present fresh opportunities since Rock Hill doesn’t have a conference center.

“It opens doors that haven’t been open for us before,” Dunlap said. “It’s a win-win for us just for that part of the project. From a tourism perspective, it would be a significant revenue driver. It will put people in our hotels, our restaurants and our shops.” 

Dunlap said Visit York County is actively talking to organizations about the facility even though they don’t know exactly what it will look like or the exact capacity.

“When we meet with event rights holders like the NCAA and people like that, we’re already talking about 2024, ‘25, ‘26,” he said. 

Dunlap said from mid-July when training camp starts through the Super Bowl, the Cowboys have full use of The Star in Frisco. But the facility is available for other purposes for the rest of the year. He expects a similar schedule for the Panthers’ facility.

“That’s a good time of year for us,” he said.

The Panthers have said its headquarters and training facilities, an investment of $200 million, will use up to 40 acres of the 240.7-acre site. The rest includes an Atrium Health sports medicine center, offices, meeting space and a hotel.

Dunlap said while he was in Frisco, Keurig Dr Pepper was building a new corporate headquarters next to the Cowboys’ practice fields.

York County Economic Development Executive Director David Swenson said two companies had contacted his office to express interest in locating in the development. He said there’s potential for 1.5 million to 3 million square feet of development in the acreage the Panthers control now, and he estimates that could lead to over 5,000 jobs. He said the Panthers’ project complements downtown Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park and University Center.

Besides commercial development, the Panthers project will also impact residential developments in some regions of the county and Rock Hill, he said. “I think this project exemplifies what a public-private partnership can do,” Swenson said.

Panthers COO Mark Hart told the Rock Hill City Council in late April that he hoped to “stick a shovel in the ground” at a groundbreaking in the next few weeks. He said plans and renderings should roll out in the next couple of months. “It’s really time to get to work,” he said.

The headquarters site must still be annexed into the city, Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said, adding that the city’s planning commission should hear some Panthers-related items in May.

The Panthers project comes at a time when Rock Hill’s downtown area has more than half a billion dollars in development in the works.

“Early in the process, I’d describe this to people as this is in effect what Disney World was to Florida and Orlando years and years ago. Now, this isn’t on the scope of Disney World, but South Carolina is not in the scope of Florida,” he said. 

A local developer bought the floundering Galleria Mall, which is across the interstate from the Panthers’ site, and has plans to redevelop it, Gettys said.

“The Panthers announcement will have an enormous impact in and of itself, but it’s also rippling through other areas of Rock Hill,” he said. “The only hiccup we have is the pandemic that seems to have ground everything to somewhat of a halt. 

“But again, the story of the Panthers is how that development will bring us much further along faster in our recovery because that and our downtown development are pretty much teed up to take off once business gets somewhat back to normal.”