By Stephen T. Watson, Tim O’Shei
ORCHARD PARK, New York (Buffalo News) – New York is set to accept a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park if it remains the team’s preference, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday morning.
This is the first time the governor has said the state, which is expected to provide the majority of funding for the projected $ 1.4 billion stadium, will come together with the team’s view that a new facility in Orchard Park makes the most sense.
“We are focusing very carefully on keeping the bills here,” Hochul said, responding to a question after discussing the state’s response to Covid-19 at the Wyoming County Community Health System in Warsaw. “If Orchard Park is their first choice – their only choice is Orchard Park – we’ll make it all happen. So we’re very excited to announce a deal in the near future, hopefully.
Hochul said state officials carefully avoided making a public advocacy for a preferred location to avoid stepping up the decision-making ladder.
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 a stadium in Orchard Park. This 91-page report from engineering firm AECOM predicted that a new stadium in Orchard Park would cost $ 1.35 billion, close to the Bills’ estimate of $ 1.4 billion. The report also said that a city facility would cost “at least about $ 350 million more than a stadium in Orchard Park,” and possibly more than $ 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 is Orchard Park. We never said the opposite.
Ron Raccuia, executive vice president of Pegula Sports & Entertainment, said the organization appreciates Hochul’s comments.
“There is a lot of work to be done 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 opposite Highmark Stadium, as the pitch is ready to be shoveled, 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 for 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 the negotiations, also noted that the construction of a stadium at the city’s proposed site, along South Park Avenue on the outskirts of downtown, would take two to three years longer.
Once a site is built on the grounds of Orchard Park, which is owned by Erie County and adjacent to Erie Community College, Highmark Stadium will be razed to the ground and become a parking lot. In general terms, staying in Orchard Park gives Bills a sense of predictability and the reassurance that they can build on the business model they have. Team officials said they were getting good feedback from fans who want the stadium to stay in Orchard Park, where parking – and therefore space for tailgating – is plentiful, and ticket sales have been booming. been strong even in previous seasons when the now winning team performed poorly.
Moving to a new location, conversely, opens up problems, ranging from potentially costly construction issues to relocating hundreds of people living in social housing on the proposed city site – and in the long run, the possibility that ‘a change in the fan experience could impact ticket sales.
The bills emphasized that they wanted 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 his state budget proposal, which is presented in January, and also position Erie’s county executive, Mark Poloncarz, will seek the support of the Erie County Legislature. Although most of the funding comes from the state, the county owns the stadium.
The governor also said on Monday that she believed, as she has said in the past, that the state, Bills and Erie County could come to an agreement on where to build a stadium and how the pay by the end of 2021. But she also said there was a possibility that negotiations could continue until the state’s budget process, which is supposed to end on March 31, is concluded. She said state officials had offered the team’s negotiators a two-pronged approach to reaching a deal.
“So I also have a larger 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 Buffalo Bills fan, let’s lock this down. Let’s do it.
A spokesperson for Poloncarz said the executive and county governor held talks over the weekend.
“The 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 deal that is acceptable to Erie County taxpayers and continues to work towards it, ”said Peter Anderson, Poloncarz press secretary.
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