Bills ink ‘ironclad’ deal on new home


Buffalo Bills agreed on a new stadium Image: Populous

The National Football League (NFL) team Buffalo Bills have reached an agreement with the State of New York and Erie County in New York (US) on a 30-year lease for a new $1.4 billion stadium in Orchard Park (town in Erie County), the team announced on March 28th.

The team said in a statement, “We took another step today to solidify our collective goal of constructing a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. We are grateful for the time, efforts and unwavering commitment made by the Governor of New York, [Kathy] Hochul, and her team throughout this process. While there are more hurdles to clear before getting to the finish line, we feel our public-private partnership between the New York State, Erie County, led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the National Football League will get us there.”

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that consists of 32 teams, divided equally between the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.

The Buffalo Bills are a professional American football team based in the Buffalo metropolitan area. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s American Football Conference East division. The team plays its home games at the Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

The 71,608-capacity Highmark Stadium is a stadium in Orchard Park, New York, in the Southern portion of the Buffalo metropolitan area. The stadium opened in 1973 and is the home venue of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL).

The ‘NFL’ stated that the official groundbreaking for the new stadium, which will be open air and projects to seat 62,000, is scheduled for the Spring of 2023 with a targeted completion date of 2026.

The State and county taxpayers will be asked to commit $850 million in public funds toward construction of the stadium. The New York State will commit $600 million in funds. The Erie County will commit $250 million toward the project, with the NFL and the Buffalo Bills committing $550 million in financing.

The dollar amount is considered to be the largest public commitment for an NFL facility. The deal is meant to secure the NFL team’s long-term future in Buffalo (US), with the proposed 60,000-plus-seat facility to be built across the street from the Bills’ current stadium.

The ‘NFL’ further stated that although the taxpayer burden of 60 percent is considered high, the agreed upon funding falls in line historically. The State and county have shared about 73 percent of the cost to build, maintain and upgrade the Bills’ existing facility, now called Highmark Stadium, which opened in 1973.

Hochul, a Buffalo native, said in a released statement, “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? I’m pleased that after months of negotiations, we’ve come out with the best answers possible.”

Without going into details, Hochul said the project will create 10,000 union jobs with the commitment recouped by the economic activity generated by the team. The State previously projected the Bills – the only NFL team actually based in New York – generate $27 million in direct annual income for the State.

The announcement came as the Bills’ stadium proposal was approved at the NFL’s owners meetings in Florida (US). Owners also approved granting the Bills what’s called a $200 million G4 loan to go toward construction costs.

Under the G4 program rules, Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are required to at least match the loan.

The NFL’s $200 million contribution was already factored in as part of the funding package.

Hochul said there are numerous options at her disposal to draw upon the necessary money to fund the project.

The Bills’ existing facility was deemed too expensive to renovate. A State study carried out in November last year pegged renovation costs at $862 million.

Fans’ fears put to rest

‘The Buffalo News’ stated that for almost as long as the Buffalo Bills franchise has existed, fans have faced a persistent fear they could lose their football team to another City.

As a Buffalo native, Kathy Hochul knows that feeling well. So as Governor, she was determined to guarantee the team’s long-term future in Western New York – “Buffalo Bills fans have enough stress. I did not want them to have to worry about the future of the team.”

With the above deal, she put those worries to rest.

On Twitter, the Pegulas called the deal “another step” in the process of building a new stadium in Orchard Park. They also said they were grateful for the commitment Hochul made – “While there are more hurdles to clear before getting to the finish line, we feel our public-private partnership between New York State, Erie County, led by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and the National Football League will get us there.”

The ‘Buffalo News’ further stated that the highest direct public contribution to the construction of a stadium, prior to the proposed Bills deal, was the $750 million invested in the $1.9 billion 65,000-capacity Allegiant Stadium in Nevada (US).

Locking the Bills into Western New York was a top priority and an immutable instruction Hochul gave her staff.

Said Hochul, who describes the 30-year lease as including a penalty that would require the team “to pay back the entire cost of the stadium” if it were to move.

Added Hochul, “I said, ‘I want it ironclad that if we’re going to make this commitment, that they have to stay’.”

Erie County legislators have said they may take up to 30 days to approve the deal.

Venue specifics

The new stadium will be built directly across the street on Abbott Road, adjacent to Erie Community College’s South Campus, in what Hochul called “the largest construction project in Western New York history”.

The venue is expected to open in 2026, before the upper deck at the current stadium needs to be replaced, per an engineering study commissioned by the county and completed in early 2021. The report also cited structural issues with the ring wall where the lower seating bowl meets the field and the stadium’s aging water and electrical systems.

The Bills have hired Kansas City architecture firm Populous to design the stadium.

The new venue is expected to seat between 60,000 and 62,000 fans, with room for up to 5,000 more spectators on a standing-room-only party deck, a capacity in line with historic attendance figures.

The stadium is expected to have a grass field and larger footprint than the team’s current 70,000-seat venue – about 1.5 million square feet, compared to about 900,000 square feet – which will allow for larger seats and concourses, other enhanced amenities and will help streamline gameday operations.

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