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In letter to Don Garber, Charlotte mayor pledges $110 million to support MLS team

Mayor Lyles closed the letter by inviting Garber to visit Charlotte in December to deliver the announcement.

Dec 7, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; MLS Commissioner Don Garber delivers the State of the League Address at Westin Peachtree. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

The city of Charlotte is willing to open its checkbook to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to the Queen City.

In a letter sent to MLS commissioner Don Garber on Nov. 21 and made public by the city Wednesday, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles wrote that $110 million in hospitality funds are “set aside to help ensure a successful venture over the next many years.”

“We are excited to welcome a Major League Soccer team to Charlotte and are taking several major steps to be a welcoming, diverse and inclusive community to the league’s 30th team,” Lyles wrote to Garber. “We have a wonderful and collaborative relationship with Tepper Sports and are aligned on our long-term goals and unified in our vision.”

Lyles closed the letter by inviting Garber to visit in December to announce Charlotte “joining the MLS family.”

The city also publicly released a permit Wednesday that shows an event will take place in uptown Charlotte near Levine Avenue of the Arts on Monday and Tuesday next week. According to the Charlotte Observer, the city issued a permit for production trucks to Vista Worldlink, a media company that has previously worked with MLS.

David Tepper is a billionaire hedge-fund manager who has been leading the charge for Charlotte to get an MLS expansion team for more than a year. The 62-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa. bought the NFL’s Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson in May 2018. Tepper and Panthers president Tom Glick attended the MLS Board of Governors meeting last week in New York City.

While MLS has not yet officially awarded Charlotte its 30th team, Garber did say after the meeting that the league is in “very, very advanced discussion” with the ownership group and there is a “great level of support” for Tepper. Garber visited Charlotte in August.

Tepper has long wanted the city to contribute substantial funding to help land an MLS team, according to a Dec. 4 story from the Charlotte Observer. Those funds would go toward upgrades to Bank of America Stadium, a 75,000-seat venue built in 1996. The stadium is home to the Panthers, and any future MLS team would also play there.

While Lyles wrote in the letter that $110 million is set aside, she didn’t specify how or when that money would be spent. She did list “modifications to Bank of America Stadium to support MLS” as a bullet point in the city’s plans.

The city council would still need to approve the incentives package in a public vote. Only one city council meeting remains on the calendar for 2019, which is a zoning meeting Monday.

City council member Malcolm Graham told the Charlotte Business Journal on Wednesday, “We’ve got to discuss the deal and the process.”

While it’s still not official that Charlotte will be awarded the 30th MLS team, all signs point to the deal getting done soon. Tepper already applied for trademarks for the potential unnamed team, according to WRAL and the Athletic. Those trademarks were filed under “DT Soccer LLC,” which has the same address as the Panthers’ offices.

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