By Stephen T. Watson, Tim O’Shei
ORCHARD PARK, New York (The Buffalo News) – New York is open to accepting a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park if it remains the team’s preference, Governor Kathy Hochul said Monday morning.
This is the first time the governor has said the state, which is expected to fund the majority of the projected $1.4 billion stadium funding, will accept the team’s view that a new facility at Orchard Park is the most logical.
“We’re very focused on keeping the bills going here,” Hochul said, responding to a question after discussing the state’s Covid-19 response to the Wyoming County Community Health System in Warsaw. “If Orchard Park is their first choice – their only choice is Orchard Park – we will make it happen. So we’re very excited to announce a deal, hopefully in the near future.
Hochul said state officials carefully avoided publicly advocating for a preferred location to avoid putting a thumbs up in the decision-making process.
A state-commissioned study agreed on the need for a new stadium to replace Highmark Stadium, which is nearly 50 years old, but did not recommend between a stadium near downtown Buffalo or one in Orchard Park. The 91-page report by engineering firm AECOM projected that a new stadium at Orchard Park would cost $1.35 billion, close to the Bills’ own estimate of $1.4 billion. The report also states that a municipal facility would cost “at least about $350 million more than a stadium at Orchard Park”, and possibly upwards of $2.1 billion.
“We had conversations and I made it clear to the Buffalo Bills organization that we wanted to accommodate both options and let them see the cost of downtown and Orchard Park,” Hochul said. “But without putting your finger on the scales. And if their desire is Orchard Park, it’s Orchard Park. We have never said otherwise.
Ron Raccuia, executive vice president of Pegula Sports & Entertainment, said the organization appreciated Hochul’s comments.
“There is a lot of work to do and we are continuing those efforts,” he said in a statement to The Buffalo News.
The Bills’ preference is to build a 60,000-seat venue built across from Highmark Stadium because the land is ready-made, making construction costs cheaper and more predictable. Building there also speeds up the construction schedule. While the team originally planned to move to a new stadium by 2027, the Orchard Park site could allow the team to move it by a year.
“If we get a response on a stadium by the end of this year and construction is not delayed, we can be ready for the 2026 season,” Raccuia told The News in late October. Raccuia, who represents team owners Terry and Kim Pegula in negotiations, also noted that the construction of a stadium on the city’s proposed site, along South Park Avenue on the outskirts of downtown, would take two to three more years.
Once a site is built on the land of Orchard Park, which is owned by Erie County and next to Erie Community College, Highmark Stadium will be razed and become a parking lot. In broad terms, staying at Orchard Park gives the Bills a sense of predictability and confidence that they can build on the business model they have. Team officials said they had good feedback from fans who want the stadium to remain at Orchard Park, where parking – and therefore space for tailgating – is plentiful, and where sales of tickets have been strong even in previous seasons when the now winning team has performed poorly.
Moving to a new location, conversely, opens up problems, ranging from potentially costly construction problems to relocating hundreds of people living in public housing to the city’s proposed site – and in the long term, the possibility that changing the fan experience could negatively impact ticket sales.
Bills have stressed that they want the main elements of a deal to be in place by December 31. Having a memorandum of understanding by the end of the year would allow Hochul to include the stadium in its proposed state budget, which is tabled in January, and also position Erie County Executive, Mark Poloncarz, will seek support from the Erie County Legislative Assembly. Although the bulk of funding comes from the state, the county owns the stadium.
The governor also said Monday that she believes, as she has said in the past, that the state, the Bills and Erie County can come to an agreement on where to build a stadium and how to build it. pay by the end of 2021. But she also said it was possible negotiations could continue until the conclusion of the state budget process, which is expected to end on March 31. She said state officials offered team negotiators a two-track approach to reaching a deal.
“So I also have a bigger window if we need more time. So it’s not a difficult deadline,” Hochul said, referring to December 31. “But my desire is, I’m a fan. Buffalo Bills, let’s lock this down.
A Poloncarz spokesperson said the county executive and governor spoke over the weekend.
“Negotiations are ongoing and complicated and we will not go into details until they are concluded. The County Executive remains committed to reaching a final agreement acceptable to Erie County ratepayers and continues to work toward that goal,” said Peter Anderson, Poloncarz Press Secretary.
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