COLUMBIA — The Carolina Panthers plan to build a team headquarters and practice facility in York County just over the state line from its Charlotte stadium, giving South Carolina a bigger role in the region's only pro football franchise.
The organization that bills itself as the NFL team for both Carolinas is actively looking for a Palmetto state site large enough for its needs as well as development of neighboring hotels, restaurants, stores and residences, two sources with knowledge confirmed to The Post and Courier.
One location under serious consideration is the site of the former Knights Stadium and Charlotte Hornets practice facility off Interstate 77 in Fort Mill, 15 miles south of the Panthers stadium in downtown Charlotte. There's talk of extending a light rail line from Charlotte into York County as part of the project.
In the near future, the Panthers are expected to upgrade Bank of America Stadium or find a replacement.
Sources understand the team could seek a York County site able to accommodate a stadium and the old baseball stadium location off I-77 receiving attention has about 300 acres. But new Panthers owner David Tepper has said he plans to keep Carolina playing in the immediate Charlotte area. The current practice fields are next to the stadium.
Tepper, who bought the franchise for a league-record $2.2 billion in July, became an honorary co-chairman of Gov. Henry McMaster's inaugural committee as part of working with the governor's office to shift the team's operations from North Carolina, said the sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to release the information.
Tepper is not donating any money to the inauguration set for Jan. 9, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said.
The team would join a growing number of Charlotte-area companies that have hopped over the North Carolina line in recent years to take advantage of South Carolina's lower taxes and economic incentives.
Moving team operations could bring more than 300 Panther employees to York County, along with hundreds more expected from nearby development, sources said. Negotiations about any potential moving incentives are expected.
This is not the franchise's first stop in York County. After the team formed in 1995, its temporary offices and practice facilities were housed at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
And the Panthers have other ties to South Carolina.
The team played its inaugural season at Clemson University's Memorial Stadium. The Panthers have held summer training camp in Spartanburg at Wofford College, the alma mater of former owner Jerry Richardson, for two decades.
It is unclear whether the training camp also would move to York County. The Panthers' contract with Wofford runs through 2019, a college spokeswoman said.
The Panthers' new practice facility and corporate offices are being modeled after a complex built by the Dallas Cowboys, sources said.
The Cowboys opened a $1.5 billion development in 2016, called The Star, that includes outdoor and indoor fields, team headquarters, weight, locker and draft war rooms, and museum-like displays of Super Bowl trophies and highlights of the franchise's history.
The Panthers did not respond to questions about the proposed complex on Wednesday.
Work on finding a York County site is ongoing, sources said, but Tepper, a hedge fund manager, has not hidden his interest in moving quickly to open a new practice facility for a team that lacks some of the up-to-date amenities of its NFL rivals.
"I would be very surprised if we're not playing indoors before the end of next summer for practice," Tepper told reporters before a game in his hometown of Pittsburgh on Nov. 8. He did not name a location.
Three weeks later, Panthers radio announcer Mick Mixon hinted about the team shifting operations to South Carolina during a speech before the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"What if I told you that a couple hundred acres somewhere near here is going to be purchased very soon and a state-of-the-art practice facility with restaurants, shopping, banking, condos, apartments is going to be built?” Mixon said according to a recording of the event from WRHI radio. "And the business center of the Carolina Panthers will move here."
Mixon provided no confirmation of the Panthers move, and York County political and business leaders told media outlets at the time that they were unaware of any firm plans by the team.