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Agreement in place to build $1.4 billion Buffalo Bills stadium in Orchard Park

Buffalo Bills

New York State, Erie County and the Buffalo Bills have reached an agreement on a $1.4 billion stadium deal that will keep the team in Western New York for 30 years and be the largest-ever taxpayer contribution to an NFL stadium.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a plan for $850 million in public funding on Monday, not long after NFL owners approved a $200 million loan to Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula. The Pegulas are expected to contribute the rest of the cost, which equals about $350 million.

The public contribution — $600 million from New York and $250 million from Erie County — is expected to be the largest-ever public investment for an NFL facility.

“I went into these negotiations trying to answer three questions — how long can we keep the Bills in Buffalo, how can we make sure this project benefits the hard-working men and women of Western New York and how can we get the best deal for taxpayers?" said Gov. Kathy Hochul in a statement. “I'm pleased that after months of negotiations, we've come out with the best answers possible — the Bills will stay in Buffalo for another 30 years, the project will create 10,000 union jobs and New Yorkers can rest assured that their investment will be recouped by the economic activity the team generates.”

Poloncarz, during a local announcement Monday, noted that the Bills will also be responsible for any project cost increases.

"We have cost certainty with regards to Erie County and New York State because the Buffalo Bills will be responsible for all cost overruns, unless such cost overruns are created as a result of the inaction or action by county government or state government," Poloncarz said. "Don't anticipate that to happen, because we are going to get this deal done and all the items that are required and associated with it.”

The announcement comes after months of behind-closed-doors negotiations and speculation.

The new stadium will be built across the street from the current one in Orchard. It will be an open-air facility with a minimum of 60,000 seats. Poloncarz said the new stadium will be built with a playing surface wide enough to accommodate other sports, including soccer.

"The Bills were very interested in other uses," he said. "They understand that the facility, the current stadium, cannot be used for soccer because of its size. And I know that if you look at what's the fastest growing sport in the United States, it's soccer. I'm not certain that they will ever consider an MLS team or something like that. But if we could even get an international friendly, USA playing another country or some other team coming in, that would be great. It would be additional revenue for the community, additional sales taxes and the like. So the team and the exact language is multi-use outdoor sports."

Once the stadium is completed, the facility will be owned by the Erie County Stadium Corporation, a state-level entity. Poloncarz anticipates Highmark Stadium will be demolished to become parking space. Other existing facilities including the fieldhouse, administrative and training facilities will also become state property and be negotiated into the new 30-year lease.

He also said that agreement includes terms that secure the franchise's stay in western New York.

"There will be included a non-relocation agreement prohibiting the team from moving. If the team was to be allowed to move by a court of law, the team must pay back to Erie County Stadium Corporation and Erie County government its contributions in full for the construction of the new stadium during the first 15 years. And then it declines for the final 15 years," he said. "And New York State can require the new stadium to actually be demolished by the Bills. These are strong terms to ensure that the team never moves. As I said, I feel very confident that once we negotiate and sign off on all the other documents, this team is going to be here through at least the rest of my lifetime."

Those documents and other required approvals, Poloncarz said, are due to be completed by Sept. 1. The funding announced Monday will be subject to approval from both state and county lawmakers.

Some, including the Buffalo NAACP and a fan group called “Bills in Buffalo,” had called for a new stadium to be built in downtown Buffalo. They argued building downtown, as opposed to the suburbs, would have a greater economic impact.

However, a state-commissioned study released in November found building a downtown stadium would cost an extra $750 million because of the need to acquire land and upgrade infrastructure.

Hochul said she plans to push for the state’s share in the 2022-23 budget, which is due Friday. Erie County lawmakers have previously expressed concern about being asked to approve a stadium deal “at the last minute.”

News of the agreement drew praise from the group Business Backs Buffalo Football, a coalition of local business leaders who argued that the Buffalo Bills are an essential economic engine for the region.

"I think from a macro level, no other community in the NFL has arguably benefited as much as as Buffalo has from having an NFL team," said Matt Davison, chair of BBBF. "We're the second smallest market in professional sports, so everyone expected there to be more public money than you would see in a large market like Los Angeles or Dallas or Las Vegas. So that's somewhat of a given. Yet, at the same time, I think the impact of the team is just so noticeable from an entertainment perspective, from a national exposure perspective for a small market town, and then beyond that, the economic impact and the philanthropy.

"You can see the amazing things that Josh Allen and the team have done for places like Oishei Children's Hospital. You can see the immense impact that the dollars from Ralph Wilson's sale of the team to Terry and Kim Pegula have meant to this community. Hundreds of millions of dollars pouring back in," Davison continued. "I think that's all sort of glossed over as people talk about the current subsidy going into the deal. But the reality is, we've seen those dollars and then some, from a taxpayer perspective, just from the sale of the team and from some of those recent philanthropic activities."

The announcement also drew criticism by Associated Builders and Contractors Empire State, which represents non-union contractors and merit-based construction companies.

ABC Empire State chapter president Brian Sampson released the following statement:

"It’s no surprise that Gov. Hochul and County Executive Polancarz (sic) have once again turned their back on the more than 70 percent of the local construction community that choose not to be affiliated with unions. We’re used to them picking winners and losers in this industry; however, we’re surprised that both Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the National Football League agreed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement for the new Bills stadium. The PLA will sideline thousands of loyal Bills fans and supporters who have passionately supported the team through good times and bad. We didn’t expect Bills’ ownership and the NFL to turn their back on those fans. Apparently, there is actually a price for loyalty.

“The good news, if people choose to embrace it, is that loyalty is a two-way street. It’s time for the corporate sponsors and season ticket holders who oppose a PLA to send a message back to Bills’ ownership and the NFL. Rather than give money to people that don’t support you and your family, spend your sponsorship and season ticket money at local establishments on Sundays. Supporting local businesses is a great way to kickstart our recovery from COVID while showing loyalty to those places that have supported our youth sports teams and charitable campaigns for many, many years.

“This is a sad day for the most loyal fanbase in the NFL. Shame on Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the NFL for letting New York’s government officials strongarm them into a PLA, sidelining hardworking Western New York construction workers and taxpayers.”
Copyright 2022 WBFO. To see more, visit WBFO.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
Jay Moran