Group will examine possibility of new Bills stadium

Governor Andrew Cuomo has named the first members of a group who will explore potential options and locations for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

The group could have up to 21 members, but only the first five have been announced. The governor appointed Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen and Empire State Development President Kenneth Adams.

Cuomo will appoint two more people. The Bills will choose seven. And Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz will soon announce his seven appointees.

“A lot of people are calling and saying, ‘Hey, I want to be on that committee.’ The answer is, Why? Well, I’m a Bills fan. Well I need someone who’s not just a Bills fan, but I need people who are able to go and take a look at site plans,” Poloncarz said.

The county executive says that means people who know what it takes to get a new stadium built and people who know the economics and business in the NFL.

“I think the one thing we have to remember first is the new stadium committee is also to determine if a new stadium is necessary. Everyone assumes this means we are going to get a new stadium in the next few years, and the answer is maybe not,” Poloncarz said.

If the group decides a new stadium is needed, it will wade through some serious questions such as where to build it.

“Well obviously as mayor of Buffalo, my preference would be to see the stadium be in the City of Buffalo,” Mayor Byron Brown said.

Downtown Buffalo, the Waterfront or Outer Harbor, Orchard Park or Niagara Falls are all locations that have been mentioned. New stadiums start at $600-700 million all the way up to $1 billion. The question remains how much of that would taxpayers have to pick up.

“I don’t know what a new owner for the Buffalo Bills will be interested in doing. But I think any new owner will have to come with the assumption that I’m going to have to put in some costs for a new stadium. Not just the costs of buying the team,” Poloncarz said.

At 95-years-old, Bills owner Ralph Wilson will not be investing in a new stadium to keep the Bills in Buffalo. The lease he just signed to keep the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the next 10 years includes $130 million in renovations.

That brings up a touchy issue. Wilson said he will not sell the team during his lifetime. So there is a question of how far ahead the new stadium group can plan in the meantime.

“Well we’re going to start the process. And I think a lot of it will depend on who the new owner will be,” Poloncarz said.

Issues include not just how much money a new owner would be willing to contribute toward a new stadium, but also if the new owner likes the plans being made more so than moving the team elsewhere.

Ralph Wilson Stadium opened in 1973. There are only five older venues in the NFL. Back in 2012 the Bills signed a 10-year lease with the state and Erie County collectively, and $130 million in upgrades were promised. If the team opted out after the eighth year it would cost them $400 million.

The Niagara Falls mayor says a meeting is expected to be held sometime in the next two weeks.

“I’m an advocate for keeping the Bills in Western New York. Wherever it is in Western New York that the Bills end up making a long-term home, that’s a victory for all of us. If we were to lose the Bills to outside of our region, then we’re all losers. So I think this is a real opportunity for us to pull together as a region to work toward our common interest,” Paul Dyster said.

The team issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“We are very appreciative of the continued support of New York State and Erie County for the Buffalo Bills franchise,” said Russell Brandon, CEO & President of the Bills.

“Our primary current operations focus is, as it must be, on the modernization process that is occurring presently here at the Ralph Wilson Stadium campus.   We have to bring it home safely, on time, on budget and with a level of quality we can all be proud of. We are confident our fans will be excited about the numerous changes taking place on our stadium campus and we look forward to being near completion by the start of the 2014 season.

“In the 2013 Ralph Wilson Stadium lease the parties collectively saw the wisdom in the establishment of a New Stadium Working Group. This group was designed to include representatives from New York State, Erie County and the Buffalo Bills.  The group’s mandate is to begin to explore ‘(i) the development and construction of a new stadium either on the [Ralph Wilson Stadium site] or on another location in Erie County, or (ii) a substantial renovation of [Ralph Wilson Stadium].’

“We look forward to re-engaging with Lt. Governor Bob Duffy and Empire State Development President Kenneth Adams as well as County Executive Mark Poloncarz and his staff, all of whom were instrumental in securing the current modernization project. We also welcome Mayors Byron Brown and Paul Dyster as well as Dottie Gallagher-Cohen of Buffalo Niagara Partnership to the effort,” added Brandon.

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