Final deal reached for Buffalo Bills’ new stadium
Stephen T. Watson, Michael Petro
Just over a year after a memorandum of understanding was reached by the Buffalo Bills, Erie County and New York State on a new stadium deal for the football team, the full deal, including a new 30-year lease, has been released for the public. .
The documents were reviewed Tuesday with Erie County, and now the County Legislature will have 30 days to review them before deciding whether to give the $1.54 billion project the final OK it needs to proceed.
“We are grateful for the public/private partnership we have shared to make this project a reality in Western New York,” the three parties said in a joint statement released at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
From the time we first heard about preliminary talks for a new Bills stadium, our team has been there to bring you news about the deal. catch you…
Also included in the documents released Tuesday is a new non-relocation agreement, which, like the new lease, will begin in 2026 when the facility is essentially finished; an extension of the current lease and non-displacement agreements that expire in July; a construction coordination agreement; and a community benefits agreement.
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Until Tuesday, only summaries of these agreements for the stadium project had been published.
“It’s a very complicated deal,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told The Buffalo News explaining why negotiations between the parties on the final agreement took so long after the memorandum of understanding was signed.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz discussed the final Bills stadium deal.
“Today is certainly another great step, another great day in this process,” Bills executive vice president and chief operating officer Ron Raccuia said Tuesday. “But for us, it’s really all part of the same journey of building the stadium and securing the bills here for the next 30 years.”
Here are some of the details of the final stadium deal:
• It includes what Gov. Kathy Hochul previously described as an “iron-clad” no-relocation provision that makes it difficult, though not impossible, for the team to leave Buffalo. The Bills cannot “submit any offer or proposal to relocate the team,” nor can they solicit an offer or enter into negotiations except in the final five years of the lease — and then only, to move after year 30. If The Pegula family would sell the team, the non-displacement agreement applies to the new owner. The agreement also provides that the team will not be sold to an owner “who, to the knowledge of the Bills, intends to relocate, transfer or otherwise relocate the team during the non-relocation period to a location other than the stadium.” If the Bills tried to leave the city during the lease term, the state or county could take the team to court.
Here are highlights from documents filed with the Erie County Legislature that lay out the terms of the final stadium agreement between Erie County, New York State and the Buffalo Bills.
• Gives the team the right to add a surcharge of up to 6% on tickets, concessions and other transactions at the new stadium. Revenue from the surcharge is intended to replace the money Erie County was required to spend on maintenance and operations at Highmark Stadium, shifting those costs from county taxpayers to stadium users. However, Raccuia said, the team has not decided whether to apply the surcharge to stadium sales. That additional revenue is separate from the tens of millions of dollars the state must spend on stadium repairs and upgrades.
• As part of the community benefits agreement included in the agreement, the team is subject to an oversight committee that will monitor compliance and place specific obligations on the bills for what it must do for the public, as well as what it must do for build and grow a diverse stadium workforce. As previously reported, the bills must invest at least $3 million annually in the community, with that amount increasing up to 2.2% annually, depending on the consumer price index. That comes to more than $100 million over the course of the stadium’s 30-year lease. The CBA also calls for the inclusion of a public transport hub, within walking distance of the stadium, to increase accessibility for fans who do not own cars.
• A 41-page construction coordination agreement lays out details of how the stadium will be built. The project to build the 1.35 million square meter open-air stadium will include the construction of a 75,000 square meter ancillary building, the demolition of the current stadium and the development of the surrounding area. The project budget calls for $1.14 billion to build the new stadium, with $13.5 million to demolish the old stadium. Furniture, fixtures and fittings will add another $57 million, while utilities and infrastructure will cost $4.3 million. The rest of the total – $323.5 million – is for design, engineering and other costs. About 400 companies are expected to be involved in the work on hundreds of different bid packages that are part of the construction of the new stadium and the demolition of the current one.
Work will soon begin on the new Buffalo Bills stadium in what is currently a parking lot across from Highmark Stadium.
A state agency, the Erie County Stadium Corp., has already approved the framework for the deal. It also cleared the way for the state to spend the first $300 million of its $600 million contribution to the stadium’s construction.
The county will put up $250 million for the project and the Bills, with help from the NFL’s G4 loan program and the sale of personal seat licenses to season ticket holders, will take care of the rest.
The Legislature will now hold multiple committee meetings as members review documents before making a final decision on the new stadium in Orchard Park. They cannot change the signed agreements; they can only debate and discuss them before voting them up or down.
Yesterday, I signed all the necessary documents (and there were many hundreds of pages) to close the new stadium transaction, as did Mr. Pegula and the NYS representative. You can review the final documents as they have been prepared for execution at https://t.co/XE16jIMKf1.
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) April 4, 2023
While critics have slammed the deal as overly generous to the team’s billionaire owners, Poloncarz again defended the deal as “fair” given that the biggest markets have lost their NFL teams.
“I’m very proud of the work we’ve done to keep this team in town when other towns have lost their football teams,” Poloncarz said. “But we didn’t give away the store.”
If the Erie County Legislature gives its approval, the Bills will then begin pre-construction site work across the street from their current Highmark Stadium to prepare for the excavation of the Abbott Road site.
The team still expects to hit the ground running within the next few months. Bills, the county and the state said they expect to hold a groundbreaking ceremony later this spring.
About 400 companies are expected to be involved in the work on hundreds of different bid packages that are part of the construction of the new stadium and the demolition of the current one.
Once the new stadium is ready for use, the Bills will demolish the existing Highmark Stadium.
Raccuia said the team is still planning to have the stadium open in time for the 2026 season.
But, he said, the amount of time it took to put the framework of last year’s deal into its final form has left the team with little leeway.
“We’re still on track, but nothing can slow us down. We’ve waived a lot of our grace period, taking the long-term deals as long as they took,” he said. “We really need to do this. And we need to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.”
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