by Mark Poloncarz
Erie County Executive
Over the first seven months as county executive, I have talked with residents from every corner of Erie County and the topic I am most frequently asked about is the ongoing lease negotiations with the Buffalo Bills.
As a candidate, I was critical of the former county executive's "sit by the phone and wait" approach to working with the Bills. That is why, as one of my first acts as county executive, I initiated a process to retain the services of special counsel to assist in negotiations, so that as soon as the Bills finished their architectural survey, we could begin meaningful discussions in hopes of reaching an agreement as soon as possible.
Because pro sport stadium leases are highly complex documents, often thousands of pages in length, I believe it would have been a disservice to residents and taxpayers to not have assembled the most knowledgeable and qualified team possible to negotiate on their behalf.
The Bills have identified more than $200 million in renovations to the current Ralph Wilson Stadium to keep it a viable NFL-caliber facility. As was the case with the current lease, and has been the case with other NFL lease agreements, the local taxpayer will be asked to bear some of that cost. But, while I strongly believe that keeping the Bills here in Buffalo is both important for our economy and the framework of our community, I also understand the economic realities that face us.
Over the past several months, we have had serious discussions with not only the Bills but also New York state - which must play a financial role for a deal to be successfully negotiated. With the Bills being the only football team with a stadium in New York state, it is just as much a priority of the state as it is for the county to keep the Bills here in Western New York.
And, while some have noted lease negotiations were not completed by the start of training camp, I can report to you that progress has been made and I feel confident an agreement can be reached before the end of the year.
Ultimately, in negotiating a new lease, my goal is to strike a fair deal for state and county taxpayers and ensure the Bills remain in our community for years to come, not rush to complete an agreement to meet self-imposed deadlines. Also, keep in mind that the current lease does not expire until July 30, 2013, and I will work as long and as hard as it takes to get the right deal negotiated.
While I cannot discuss specific points of agreement or contention as we negotiate with the Bills and New York state, I welcome your input into this process. If you would like to express your opinion on the lease negotiations or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 858-8500 or email me at [email protected].