Leaders want transparency on cost of new Bills stadium

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Fans shopping in the new Buffalo Bills store at Ralph Wilson Stadium seem willing to do whatever it takes to keep the team in Western New York, but they want to know what it’s going to cost.

“I think that taxpayers should be aware of everything that’s going on so you know what you’re dealing with,” said Phyllis Fasanello of Kenmore, a 27-year Bills season ticket holder.

Chuck Miller of Amherst had the same feeling.

“I do think taxpayers should be kept in the loop because we are footing a majority of the bill.”

The 20-member New Stadium Work Group met once in April behind closed doors. Consultants commissioned by Governor Andrew Cuomo have picked four potential Erie County sites for a stadium, according to a report in the Buffalo News. They were supposed to have finished a report in July, but the study has yet to be completed.

State Assemblyman Mickey Kearns of South Buffalo is leading a call for transparency.

“Taxpayers, the ’12th Man,’ have spent over $95 million on renovation, and we don’t have a seat at the table,” he said at a Wednesday news conference.

Recently a total of $130 million has been spent for the Ralph Wilson Stadium makeover.

More than 20 state and local lawmakers and municipal leaders have signed a letter to the co-chairs of the Stadium Work Group saying, “The people are being kept in the dark despite taxpayer money being used.”

The letter requests that an emergency public meeting be held immediately.

Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, who also signed the letter, said, “When we have to take important votes that impact all of you and impact this community, we shouldn’t have to wait until the last minute to know even what we’re voting on or what we are thinking through.”

But not all taxpayers believe in full transparency. Some say there has to be some confidentiality as the Bills seek a new owner and possibly a new stadium.

David Christopher, a Bills fan from Amherst, said, “Things change from day one to day 90, and [if] you start putting things out from day one, you’re going to put out an awful lot of confusion. You’re going to put people in a panic mode.”

But with the NFL reportedly favoring a new stadium for the Bills, taxpayers want to know what they’ll have to pay.

“I’m not real keen on a brand new stadium if it’s going to take a lot of money out of my tax dollars,” said Kathleen Swierski of Elma. 

But she added, “On the other hand, to keep the Bills. I would have to say yes.”

Keeping the stadium in Orchard Park is reportedly one of the four options now being considered. Some say another $400 million in renovations would be affordable compared to a brand new billion dollar stadium.

Orchard Park Town Supervisor Patrick Keem also signed the transparency letter. At the Wednesday news conference he said, “New stadiums are usually built to bring money for the owners. Do we really, in Western New York, want to have higher ticket prices?”

David Christopher takes a bottom line view.

“What is it going to take to bring this stadium to the level of what they want,” he said. “Can it be done? If it can’t, then you’re going to have to look at ‘new.”

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