Calling it “a momentous day” in court, a federal judge has approved a bankruptcy settlement from a David Tepper-owned company that officially ends the contentious civil battle over the failed headquarters project in Rock Hill, S.C.
The site had been hailed to the public two years ago as a massive economic development for Rock Hill, York County, the state of South Carolina — and the Carolina Panthers. The dream was that it would create hundreds of jobs, give Rock Hill a national presence in professional sports, and give the Panthers an elaborate headquarters and practice facility.
That dream ended with a bankruptcy case — and connected lawsuits — amid an audience of lawyers and a judge. As a lawyer for the general contractor recently said in court: “It imploded.”
The setting this week was a video conference court hearing from Delaware. Federal bankruptcy court Judge Karen Owens said the settlement benefits all involved.
In court Thursday, Owens said, “We have reached the finish line. .. It’s a momentous day. It is a great result… It benefits all parties and interests.”
Owens officially signed the order around 11 a.m Friday morning.
The settlement does not indicate who is at fault in the failed endeavor.
In previous hearings, Owens had demanded that York County, Rock Hill, its taxpayers, and other entities get a fair deal.
The GT Real Estate (GTRE) settlement will pay York County the $21 million it paid for the project. Rock Hill will get the title to the land worth more than $20 million, the city’s lawyer said. And contractors, who worked for months until GTRE halted construction in March and then filed bankruptcy in June, will get $60 million.
GT Real Estate is the company created by Tepper to oversee what would have been the Panthers’ headquarters and practice facility. The project failed in a dispute over money.
Over the past six months, several lawsuits were filed. As part of the settlement, GTRE, Rock Hill, York County, and contractors, have agreed to end all legal action.
The money apparently will soon be paid.
GTRE issued a statement to The Herald after the plan was approved by the judge. The statement said:
“From the outset, GTRE sought to ensure all legitimate claims were processed as fairly and quickly as possible and to achieve the project’s orderly and safe wind-down. We are pleased that the Court has approved our comprehensive plan of reorganization, which paves the way to resolve and satisfy GTRE’s creditor claims.”
Mike Roeschenthaler, lawyer for the general contractor Mascaro/Barton Malow, issued a statement to The Herald that praised all sides for coming to an agreement. Roeschnethaler stated:
“While I think Mascaro/Barton Malow would have loved to have seen this project completed, factors beyond its control brought it to a crashing halt, and with that, a crisis for it, its subcontractors, the local governments, and the community. But as the saying goes, ‘In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.’ Unlike most chapter 11 cases, every affected party worked together in this case and seized the opportunity to make the best of this unfortunate situation. The outcome speaks to the value of collaboration and good faith, which is kind of nice at this time of year.”
In court hearings Wednesday and in court documents, lawyers for York County and Rock Hill said the city and county agreed to the bankruptcy plan and the settlements with the other parties.
The last-day details
In Thursday’s hearing, Owens demanded that the lawyers for all sides fix language related to the settlement that would block any future legal action. Related “sticking points” had caused Owens to deny approval of the plan Wednesday in court hearings, which lasted much of the day.
Under the final plan, all lawsuits are terminated and withdrawn, according to lawyers in the case and court documents. All allegations made in the lawsuits also are withdrawn and will be expunged, GTRE lawyers said.
Lawyers for the contractors, the county and city, GTRE, Tepper, and other Tepper companies including Appaloosa Management, DT Sports Holding, and Tepper Sports Holding were in the hearing Thursday afternoon.
The sides agreed to fix the language and send the amended plan to the judge for approval — and her signature.
The sides adjourned the Thursday hearing to iron out details that Owens and a Department of Justice U.S. Trustee assigned to the case wanted.
All related lawsuits dismissed
After GTRE filed bankruptcy in June alleging there was not money in the project to keep it moving, York County filed two lawsuits against GTRE and the other Tepper companies, and Rock Hill filed a lawsuit against GTRE.
GTRE denied all allegations and filed counterclaims in court. York County and Rock Hill denied GTRE claims.
At one point amid the lawsuits being filed, GTRE pulled its offers of $20 million to Rock Hill and $21 million to York County and said GTRE owed the city and county nothing.
The final settlement reinstated the original GTRE offers.
Dan Fliman, a lawyer for Tepper and his companies, said in court Wednesday the bankruptcy plan provides, “consensus, peace, and finality.”
An all-out effort that failed
Top political leaders in South Carolina rushed an incentive package through in 2019 and 2020 to help land what they believed would be the Panthers deal. The Panthers received tax incentives.
The project included a new Interstate 77 interchange in Rock Hill next to the site that cost tens of millions of dollars. That interchange is still under construction.
The original plan called for the team to move its corporate offices to Rock Hill, with adjacent business development around the site.
What happens now?
Money payments to the creditors — York County and the contractors — should begin soon, bankruptcy court documents show.
The property has not been sold and still is listed for sale by a real estate company hired by GTRE, court documents show.
Rock Hill will get no cash but will own the title to the property, one of the city’s lawyers said in court Wednesday.
The buildings already under construction are an eyesore that will have to be razed, said Chuck Gibbs, a lawyer for the city of Rock Hill.
This story was originally published December 16, 2022 12:33 PM.