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City, Tepper Partner To Revitalize Eastland With Soccer

Brett Jensen
December 17, 2019 - 3:00 pm
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While it’s a done deal that the city of Charlotte is the latest city to officially be award a Major League Soccer franchise, the contract between the team’s owner David Tepper and the city is anything but a done deal.

It’s known that the city of Charlotte will set aside $110 million dollars for a “hospitality fund,” which will be used for things like renovating Bank of America Stadium to make it more soccer friendly and helping out with the development of the old Eastland Mall area, which is currently nothing more than a giant empty space and where the new soccer offices and practices fields will be located.

But what isn’t know is what exactly is the contract that the city will have in place with Tepper, who also owns the Carolina Panthers. How much will the city leaders be willing to give to Tepper, the richest owner in the NFL, to ensure his plans for Charlotte take place?

City Council members said the negotiations between Tepper and the city haven’t even truly begun yet. They said there’s been no determination or basically any discussion on whether Tepper will get the land for free, or at a discount, or will pay full price.

There are lots of things yet to be discussed, however, with the team beginning play in 2021, so many of these decisions will have to happen quickly.

But one thing is clear, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles full expects a revenue stream for the city once the soccer headquarters and practice fields for the team is complete.

“My goal is to have Eastland back on property tax rolls,” she said. “I think when the city council heard that the money that we would have would be devoted to the Eastside and the Center City, that was a game-changer.

“When you think about the Center City and the Gateway and the Westside, that bridge going down to Five Points with the streetcar, all of this is beginning to come together in a way that’s going to benefit people that we’ve left out.”

There hasn’t been a formal vote or a public hearing on how the $110 million will be spent. That will happen eventually, but Tepper said most of that money will go toward the Eastland Mall area.

And when the vote does take place, Tepper says he anticipates the city will live up to its end to the agreed dollar amount.

“As far as Eastland is concerned, it’s a partnership,” he said. “If the people want to do it, we can build something great and make the community better. It’s really up to the city and the people if they want to do that...

“If you have a partner that gives their word on something, then you hope they keep their word. We’ve got a lot of great things that we want to do in this city. We’re talking about an entertainment district from the Gateway to the stadium. … With Eastland, you’re talking about our training facility and our development around there and down to Central Avenue with restaurants and shops and making it a richer community. That’s the grand idea.

“We can build just a practice facility. I’ve got another practice facility that’s building someplace elsewhere we have a lot of land and we can do it down there. But if we can do this partnership, which is not operationally cheaper for me to do, we’ll do it and we’ll do it with the city. Because we have an opportunity to make something better in the community. At the end of the day, we’re in a partnership with the city and a long-term partnership with the community. That’s been the intent from Day 1.”

It’s perfectly clear that because the old Eastland Mall site was key to all of this happening.

The city wanted to finally find something that could be put there, while at the same time making it a destination spot.

This seems to have solved those issues.

“This is an important effort for us,” Lyles said. “Two years ago, none of us would’ve expected to have development on the Eastside. And we’ve had many failed attempts and so to have an attempt that we actually have commitment for a plan, we have a commitment for a headquarters and a commitment for public funding to help make that happen, I want to applaud our city council for doing that.”

City Council member Braxton Winston said while he understands that not everybody in the poor neighborhoods are excited about the team coming to Charlotte and will likely never attend a match, he said that the revitalization of the Eastland Mall area is something the entire city will be able to benefit from.

“Eastland has been such a challenge in so many ways,” he said. “I really am of the belief that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how you can get a more perfect marriage than between Major League Soccer and the Eastside. … This development process over there is going to be an amazing opportunity to engage the folks that have been there for a long time.”

Tepper and his wife have jumped into helping the community and charities all over Charlotte. They’re big into helping schools and underprivilege students and making sure they have the supplies they need to do their schoolwork.

This is another area Tepper hopes to be able to turn the tide in an area and make it a hotspot like it was decades ago.

“If you have (fields and the headquarters) there, then you have an attraction for people to come to,” he said. “More than half of that stuff is going to be for youth soccer and stuff like that. That’s what this is all about. This is community. What am I going there for if I’m not going to help serve the community? I have other places I could go that might be cheaper for me to operate. …

“I’m excited about the prospect and I hope that we can do something great.”

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