Bills venue dreams close to fruition



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Buffalo Bills stadium update April 2023 Image: Buffalo Bills and Populous

The National Football League (NFL) team Buffalo Bills (US) moved one major step closer to breaking ground on their new stadium by June 1st after formally submitting the final contractual agreements – including a detailed 30-year lease – to the county on April 4th.

‘AP’ stated that the Erie County Legislature (County Government office in Buffalo, New York) now has 30 days to review the documents and ratify the agreement. The county’s approval would clear the way for construction on the now-projected $1.5 billion-plus, 60,000-plus seat facility to begin across the street from the Bills current stadium in Orchard Park, New York (US). The cost of the facility has increased from the original estimate of $1.4 billion.

The Buffalo Bills are a professional American football team based in the Buffalo metropolitan area. The Bills 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, US.

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

The 62,000-capacity planned venue of the Bills will be built adjacent to the Erie Community College’s South campus across the street from the Highmark Stadium, which would be demolished. The stadium will be designed by the celebrated design studio Populous, who has previously designed 12 other active NFL stadiums, with which the new Orchard Park stadium will share numerous design elements and features.

‘AP’ further stated that a majority of the construction on the open-air stadium is expected to be completed in time for the 2026 season.

The finalized agreements were negotiated by the Bills, the State and County, and posted on the county’s website. The details of the agreement were completed a little more than a year after the three parties reached a tentative deal on the project that included a taxpayer commitment of $850 million – the largest public price tag for an NFL facility.

The NFL, through its G4 loan program, and the Bills agreed to commit $550 million in financing, with team owners Terry and Kim Pegula’s share coming in at $350 million, with much of that made up by the team introducing seat licenses for the season ticket holders. The Bills are also responsible for covering any construction over-runs beyond $1.4 billion.

The Bills, State and the county said in a joint statement, “Today (April 4th) marks another significant step taken as we approach a groundbreaking ceremony later this Spring.”

The notable details in the final agreements include a 30-year lease that features a non-relocation clause in which the Bills would have to pay back all public funding through the first 14 years of the deal. The payback amount drops over the final 16 years of the agreement.

The deal includes a community benefits agreement (CBA) in which the Bills will commit $3 million annually toward social, educational purposes and the economic health of the region. The Bills also agreed to include a public transportation hub as well as sidewalks and pathways for fans and employees to access the facility.

The agreement also extends the current stadium’s lease to July 31st, 2028.

A community benefits agreement (CBA) in the United States is a contract signed by the community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community or neighborhood. In exchange, the community groups agree to publicly support the project, or at least not oppose it. Often, negotiating a CBA relies heavily upon the formation of a multi-issue, broad based community coalition including the community, environmental, faith-based, and labor organizations.

The State is committing $600 million toward constructions costs as well as another $280 million to cover the maintenance and operational costs over the 30-year period. The State is taking over sole control of the new stadium after previously sharing the lease with the county.

The new facility will replace the Bills current stadium, which opened in 1973 and was deemed too expensive to renovate. A State study in November 2021 pegged renovation costs at $862 million.
 

Tentative Deal

‘New York Post’ stated that as the NFL Draft approaches, the Erie County legislators are now on the clock. The County officials, the New York State and the Buffalo Bills have released the final details of a $1.54 billion deal to build the NFL team a new stadium with the help of taxpayers’ money.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told newsmen, “The Buffalo Bills will be staying here, not only for the next few years during construction, but 30 years thereafter. So, this at least secures them in our community until 2055.”

‘New York Post’ further stated that critics have said for years that $850 million in public money – $600 million from the State and $250 million from the county – would not be well spent on the planned stadium for the football team owned by billionaire couple Terry and Kim Pegula.

Reads a 2021 analysis from the Tax Policy Center, “Every dollar local leaders bet on the Bills rather than investing in core public services comes at a cost to those other long-term opportunities. Putting taxpayer dollars into higher-return public amenities could benefit Buffalo in ways a taxpayer-funded NFL team can’t.”

But officials like Poloncarz and the Governor of New York Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, have claimed that the project would generate vital economic activity in Western New York – while keeping a cherished source of local pride from moving elsewhere.

Hochul said last year after securing approval for the use of State money in the stadium project as part of a budget deal, “I have a large State with a lot of different interests, and I know that this is important for the identity of Western New York, I will stand by that.”

Hochul may have an added personal stake in the project. It was reported last year that her husband Bill, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel at the Highmark Stadium concessionaire Delaware North, can be expected to make big money if the firm is able to keep football fans fed and boozed up for another three decades.
 

Newly-released documents detail some sweeteners in the deal for the various parties:

  • Erie County will get its own suite at the future stadium;
  • The Bills must invest at least $3 million in the surrounding community each year, with future increases to be based on inflation;
  • Construction workers will receive a “prevailing wage” that exceeds market-rate pay; and
  • The Bills would have to pay back at least some of the public money if they ever try to move.

 
Poloncarz said that the deal followed years of negotiations that sought to strike a balance between the desire to keep the team in Buffalo while maximizing potential economic benefits – “This is one of the most complicated deals I have ever been involved with. When you talk about dotting I’s and crossing T’s this is what you end up with -hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents.”

The County Executive also reminded newsmen that San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland had lost their NFL teams to Los Angeles and Las Vegas in recent years.

He added, “As much as everybody would like to think the Bills were never moving, there was always a risk. I can guarantee you, this team is staying here.”

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