In case you missed the reporting, Governor Kathy Hochul and County Executive Mark Poloncarz last week announced their agreement on terms for construction of a new stadium and a new thirty-year lease agreement with the Buffalo Bills. The stadium will cost $1.4 billion and will be located across the street from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.
This is a story that has been ongoing for more than fifty years. In the late 1960’s the Bills were threatening to move to a different city. War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo was expanded in the 1960s but was very old and inadequate for the fans and the team. Erie County government got involved in discussions for a replacement facility. A proposal for a domed stadium at the crossroads of Main Street and South Park Avenue was discussed. Three years of agonizing discussions went on. Two county legislators went to prison for taking bribes. The never-built dome in Buffalo got transformed into an 80,000-seat open-air facility in Orchard Park. It was spartan by modern standards, but it served the need for a cost of $22 million.
In the late 1990s the state and county worked out a deal for stadium renovations at a cost of $101 million. Between 2013 and 2022 another $227 million was spent for further capital improvements. Along the way over the past fifty years the county and state have also annually spent millions of dollars on operating costs. The stadium is the fourth oldest professional football facility in the country.
Unless you are an NFL owner or a league employee, you cannot be happy with the idea of spending $850 million of public money for a football stadium. “Let’s the billionaires pay for it.” Of course. But then reality sets in.
Western New Yorkers love the Bills, particularly since the team is looking as good as it does now. The thing is, the league and the team are businesses that view issues differently than the public might. There have been three franchise moves in the NFL during past few years.
The state has funded several other professional sports facilities. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tom Suozzi and Jumaane Williams, however, both say they want the Bills in Buffalo, but that private rather than public money should be used to entirely pay for a new stadium. Which of course will not happen. Which of course would mean that the team would leave. Would a Governor Suozzi or a Governor Williams be in Orchard Park to wave goodbye as the moving vans pulled out?
The public financing portion of the new deal demonstrates a very rational approach. Prudent financial management of county finances leaves the county in a position to put in $75 million from reserve funds (30 percent of the county’s obligation) to pay its share of the deal. Think of it as a very large down payment on a thirty-year mortgage. Governor Hochul plans to use the $418 million payment of money owed for the past five years by the Seneca Nation from its casinos to cover 70 percent of its costs, which also makes sense since most of their gambling proceeds come from Western New Yorkers.
The huge salaries for Bills players and management generate $27 million in annual state income tax revenues, an amount that will undoubtedly grow through 2055. At a conservative $30 million average over 30 years that amounts to $900 million in state revenues. There will also be some revenues from sales taxes.
There will be additional public costs along the way throughout the thirty-year deal, but those expenses parallel what has already been on-going for the past 25 years from the county and state.
There is also the issue concerning stadium location, with some people supporting a Buffalo site. Former North District Councilmember and former Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance of WNY Dale Zuchlewski has observed on Twitter that the suggested Buffalo stadium “is not downtown. It’s a neighborhood close by. This location would require the displacement of 3,000 residents which is heartless and cruel. It doesn’t have the support of a single elected official.” A city site would add an estimated $300-400 million to total costs.
The issues here are hard to decide but the consequences of going one way or the other are pretty evident. If this community and state want to retain the Bills, and if a new stadium is needed to make that happen, then the choices all point to the sort of deal that has been arrived at. Settle the details, get a community benefits agreement together, and then get the shovels in the ground.
Bills fans, of course, will forever bemoan the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in January’s playoff game when the Bills did not get a chance to score in overtime after a KC touchdown. League owners also took note. The upshot of the outcry is an NFL rule change starting next season that will, in playoff games, permit both teams in overtime to have a chance to score. A win for fairness!
Speaking of rules changes, I came across some new rules for baseball games that are used by the Savannah Bananas (real name, you can look it up) who play in the Coastal Plain League. Among their rules changes:
- Every Inning Counts – The team that scores the most runs in an inning gets a point. The first team to five points wins the game. The inning is over once the home team takes a lead or three outs are recorded on the home team.
- Two Hour Time Limit – No inning will start after the two-hour point. If neither team has reached 5 points, the game will go to a Showdown Tiebreaker.
- No Bunting.
- Batters Can Steal First – If a passed ball or wild pitch happens during any pitch, the batter can take off to first.
- No Mound Visits Allowed – from a coach, catcher, or any other players.
- If a Fan Catches a Foul Ball – It’s an out.
That would certainly liven up the old ball game!
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