NFL’s Bills Reach Stadium Deal to Stay in Buffalo for 10 Years

The Buffalo Bills agreed with New York state and Erie County to stay at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, for 10 years, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The 39-year-old stadium will undergo a $130 million renovation, with the National Football League team picking up $35 million, Cuomo said at a press briefing today. The two government levels will share the rest, with the state paying $54 million and the county $41 million, according to an e-mailed statement.

The Bills, without a winning season since 2004, would have to pay $400 million if they break the lease, with an exception in the seventh year, when it drops to a $29 million penalty, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said. The deal also has state and local government and the Bills exploring the possibility of a new stadium, Cuomo said.

“This commits the Bills to staying at Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Cuomo said. “Go Bills, go Buffalo, go western New York.”

Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat, appeared on a video feed to the briefing at the stadium, saying he couldn’t fly to Buffalo because of bad weather.

NFL stadiums represent the highest cost to taxpayers and about one-third of spending on all big-league facilities, according to research by Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning. The average football stadium costs $488 million, with the public paying an average of $374 million, or 87 percent.

Low Price

The Bills’ stadium has one of the lowest public price tags of any NFL venue, according to Long. Despite the size of the market -- 51st in the nation, according to Nielsen Holdings NV - - public officials in the state and local governments “still managed to negotiate a deal outcome that, on public dollar value, a larger market would find very hard to beat,” Long wrote in her 2012 book, “Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilities.”

The team’s guarantee is a boost for western New York and Buffalo, Poloncarz said. In the 2010 U.S. Census, Buffalo had the state’s lowest median household income, at $30,230.

“The Bills are not just the heart and soul of western New York, but a key economic driver,” Poloncarz said. “The agreement assures the Buffalo Bills will continue to be the Buffalo Bills.”

New video display boards on the stadium’s east end, a new plaza that will include a revamped team store, and renovated and expanded concessions are among the improvements to be made at the under the deal, according to the statement.

Funds dispersed by the state and county for stadium fixes in the last three years of the deal can be redirected to help develop a plan for a new stadium, Poloncarz said.

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