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'Not good': Records show South Carolina officials caught off guard by termination of Panthers facility

Emails show the South Carolina Secretary of Commerce, at Rock Hill's request, planned on touring the training facility site with the Panthers COO on March 8.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The Carolina Panthers paused work on its planned $800 million training facility in Rock Hill the day before South Carolina Commerce Secretary Harry Lightsey, local leaders and the team's chief operating officer were scheduled to tour the site, newly obtained state records show.

Department of Commerce emails and text messages obtained by WCNC Charlotte through a public records request suggest state economic development officials were blindsided by the Panthers' March 7 decision to bring the project to a standstill. In fact, at the city of Rock Hill's request, Lightsey had planned to spend time at the site on the morning of March 8.

"Lordy Lordy!" Deputy Secretary of Commerce Ashely Teasdel wrote in an email reply on the evening of March 7 about the canceled tour.

Text messages reveal Gov. Henry McMaster spoke with Panthers Owner David Tepper in mid-April, six days before Tepper's GT Real Estate Holdings terminated its agreements with Rock Hill.

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"Tepper is going to be meeting with the City and the County next week," Department of Commerce Governmental Affairs Director Mark Hendrick texted several others on April 13 in an effort to relay the message to Lightsey. "(The governor's chief of staff) takes that as a net positive. I agree."

That message came a day after McMaster Chief of Staff Trey Walker texted: " I have an update on panthers. not good."

On that same day, McMaster publicly addressed the pause.

"I've had a number of conversations with (Tepper) over the months, but they're at an impasse now ... I hope they get everything worked out because we're ready to go," he said on April 12. " ... The state has done its part and we want to encourage everyone to resolve whatever differences and let's get moving."

On the morning of April 19, Walker warned he just learned the Panthers planned on "pulling the plug on the project and terminating all contracts."

"Bad news on the Panthers coming this morning," he texted.

Tepper Sports and Entertainment, citing its investment of $170 million on the project, previously announced the city of Rock Hill did not hold up its end of the bargain. WCNC Charlotte later discovered the city failed to secure $225 million in bonds to pay for roads, sidewalks and other public infrastructure on the site.

When Tepper's company terminated its agreements with Rock Hill in April, the team said the city became delinquent on its obligation to fund the public infrastructure in February 2021 and as a result, the company issued a default notice in March 2022.

The Department of Commerce declined to comment for this story.

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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