ROCK HILL — When the Panthers envisioned a new practice facility and headquarters in South Carolina, you knew it was going to be big.
Now that the land has been cleared, the foundations have been poured, and there's steel in the ground, you can see the framework of the place, and that vision is confirmed.
Tepper Sports and Entertainment and Carolina Panthers chief operating officer Mark Hart recently offered some updates on the 240-acre facility which is informally known as "The Rock," showing the scope of the place.
Hart referred to it as a "one-of-one project," saying it would be unlike anything else in the NFL in terms of the facility itself, and what they hope will grow around it in terms of future development, and the green spaces and connectivity designed into it.
"I think the way this facility is going to relate to its development, to the highway, its connection to the city and the community, I think is kind of unique," Hart said. "We want this entire project to be a live-work-play environment...
"When you put all those factors on one sheet of paper on a list, I don't know any sports facility in the world that has all the elements and attributes that this one's going to have."
The plan is to have the facility ready for the football operation to be in place for the 2023 season.
Hart referred to it as a "no-fail mission," making clear that the expectation is to deliver on time.
"Our focus is getting the football team here," Hart said, of the 2023 timeline.
The 700,000-square foot superstructure will house year-round all the team's football and administrative and business offices, along with an enclosed full-sized indoor field which is referred to as the Pavilion. That connects directly (via a set of 80-foot tall sliding glass doors) to the Park, another artificial surface field which can be used for multiple events, from high school sports to concerts. The Park has a capacity of between 5,000 and 10,000, depending on configuration.
We've always envisioned that as a great venue for high school sports, and youth football," Hart said. "This is Football City USA, and this might be the greatest football city in the USA if the high school teams can play here."
On the other side of the building is where the Panthers will do most of their work, with three natural grass practice fields, just steps away from the team locker room and weight room (no more cart rides around a corner and under a bridge to get to practice).
They will also host a state-of-the-art medical facility in partnership with Atrium Health, and the plan is for that to open concurrently with the football operation.
"I don't know any other facility like this that's got 30,000 square feet of physical rehab and sports medicine space, run by a premier health-care provider right in the building," Hart said.
The facility will have its own interchange off Interstate 77 (scheduled to open the second quarter of 2023), and plans call for future business, entertainment and residential development surrounding the football component.
Crews from Mascaro/Barton Malow broke ground on the project in July 2020, and began pouring concrete foundations in February. The steel erection began in June, and they've already changed the skyline, with cranes visible from 77 and Dave Lyle Blvd.
And as is fitting with the project and the location, even when they run into a hurdle, it's not small.
While digging, crews kept running into well, rock — the city didn't get its name by accident. Not a continuous seam of bedrock, but a collection of interspersed blue granite boulders, some the size of school buses and large trucks, which complicated the process. Project executive John West called it a "geologic anomaly," but one they've pushed through.
The rock pile continued to grow (they're breaking them down and repurposing them on the project), and weather was a factor, but crews have worked steadily toward the target dates throughout.
On any given day, there are around 350 workers on site, (with up to 800 or more expected in later phases of the project), and they've made it a priority to hire from the surrounding area. Of the 118 local contractors and suppliers hired for the project to date, 20 are from Rock Hill and York County, and six more are from other parts of South Carolina, in addition to the 92 North Carolina-based companies.
And now that you can see the outline of the building, the plans that have existed as abstract concepts are starting to become real, and you can begin to get a sense of what's coming.
And in short, it's big.