Rock Hill SC seeks reimbursement after Carolina Panthers bankruptcy

York County officials sent a clear message after GT Real Estate Holdings, LLC announced Wednesday that it had filed for bankruptcy.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper specifically formed GT Real Estate for the Rock Hill headquarters site, off I-77, north of Dave Lyle Boulevard.

York County released a statement Thursday morning noting that bankruptcy protection lists the county as one of the creditors. That’s because of GT Real Estate and the county’s agreement to upgrade a section of Mt. Gallant Road bordering the new headquarters property, according to the county’s release. The county has invested $21 million for the project, the statement said.

“We believe these funds will be fully repaid with interest and the taxpayers of the county are protected,” the county said in its news release. “We were prepared for this action and fully expect a positive outcome for our citizens.”

York County voters approved a $173 million Pennies for Progress campaign in 2003, which includes money for Mt. Gallant. Pennies are a one-cent sales tax payable for road projects. The 2003 vote would widen a stretch of Mt. Gallant to three lanes, but the Panthers project came with plans for five lanes.

Rather than doing the roadwork twice, a deal was struck that the county would invest $21 million — the cost of the three-lane widening — as part of larger improvements to the Panthers’ road network.

“Work there hasn’t started,” county spokesman Greg Suskin said of the Mt. Gallant project. “We plan to complete this project as it was approved under (the previous Pennies campaign).”

Late Wednesday evening, GT Real Estate Holdings, LLC announced that it had filed for bankruptcy in Delaware “to effect an orderly liquidation of the project” in Rock Hill. Related companies, including the Panthers, Charlotte FC and Tepper Sports & Entertainment, are not financially affected by the matter, the statement said.

Rumors of a Panthers headquarters in Rock Hill date back to 2018. In early 2020, Rock Hill City and York County councils were working on deals described by economic development leaders as having an economic impact $2 billion for the region.

Plans have been formed for a new interchange on I-77 which is currently under construction between Cherry Road and Dave Lyle Boulevard. South Carolina Department of Transportation officials have repeatedly said work will continue despite uncertainty in recent months between the Panthers, city and county over the headquarters project.

But in May 2021, the Panthers sent a letter to York County asking for help with funding that the team said Rock Hill had not provided. This spring, the team announced the construction halt. Then came the termination of construction contracts with the city on public funding.

Since construction halted, Rock Hill maintains that it has fulfilled all its obligations required under the agreement with the Panthers.

David Swenson, York County’s director of economic development, said more information was needed after Wednesday night’s bankruptcy announcement before details were finalized, such as what could replace the headquarters of the Panthers, how the site might be marketed for future development, or other related details.

“Too early to tell what might go there,” Swenson said.

GT Real Estate in York County

A representative for GT Real Estate, who asked to be identified only as a representative of the company, would not comment Thursday morning on what happened next for the Rock Hill site or when future plans might be announced.

The representative said the bankruptcy will end the Rock Hill project, but the filing only affects GT Real Estate and does not affect David Tepper or the Carolina Panthers.

“It’s a company that we started for that purpose, and that’s basically what we envision,” the rep said.

GT Real Estate owns several properties in York County, but the representative would not comment on the plans for each.

“At the end of the day, it’s basically the project site,” the rep said of Wednesday’s filing.

County records show that GT Real Estate Holdings owns eight York County properties:

The company purchased the main headquarters site, on approximately 215 acres along I-77, in a $16.4 million deal on April 1, 2020.

The company added a connected parcel of less than an acre at 194 Mt. Gallant Road the same day, for $200,000.

GT Real Estate purchased nearly 10 acres at 329 Waterford Park Drive and 14 acres at 2681 Dave Lyle Boulevard in March 2020 for $1.75 million. The properties combine to form the northwest corner of the Waterford Park and Dave Lyle intersection.

In January 2020, the company purchased nearly 5 acres at Mt. Gallant Road for what would have been an entrance to Panthers headquarters for $250,000.

Another property connected to the site acquired in December 2021, over 2 acres at 228 Mt. Gallant, includes over 20,000 square feet of storage warehouses.

GT Real Estate acquired 10 acres of property along the Catawba River in July 2020. The property is located at 344 Waterford Park Dr.

In July 2020, GT Real Estate purchased a 22,000+ square foot warehouse site at 280 Mt. Gallant Road, connected to the main headquarters site, for $1 million.

The Panthers group also purchased Waterford Golf Club, although the property is listed there under a different name. In March 2020, a company called Waterford Golf Club with the same address as the NFL team purchased the 200+ acre golf course for nearly $2.3 million.

Community blame for the Panthers project

Shortly after the Panthers announced that the team had terminated the construction contract with the city, The Herald asked readers of an online poll for their views on the disagreement – whether they accused the Panthers of not wanting to work with the city or town not providing upfront public funding.

Of nearly 1,700 votes cast, only two votes separated the options. Each received 39% of the total, with the remaining 23% of votes indicating that both sides were equally at fault.

What was clearer among readers’ comments was that they still wanted the project to happen. Of more than 1,500 votes, 70% said the team and city should continue to work toward a deal. The remaining 30% voted for the city to move on and pursue something new on the site.

This is a developing story. Come back for more.

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John Marks graduated from Furman University in 2004 and joined the Herald in 2005. He covers community growth, municipalities, transportation and education primarily in York and Lancaster counties. The Fort Mill native has won dozens of South Carolina Press Association awards and several President McClatchy Awards for news coverage in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie.
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