Erie County exec tamps down fears of Bills relocating

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz dismissed speculation of the Buffalo Bills relocating if a deal can’t be negotiated for public funds to pay for the construction of a new stadium.

Poloncarz, however, did issue a warning on Wednesday by saying the state and county won’t be writing what he called “a blank check,” to pay for what is projected to cost at least a $1 billion.

“We will get a deal done,” he said in speaking the most extensively on the stadium issue since negotiations began two months ago. “It’s just got to be a fair deal for all.”

Poloncarz did not go into specifics on the proposed cost of the project to replace the Bills current facility, which opened in 1973, and controlled by the state and county. He focused most of his comments on fears raised over the team potentially relocating, which surfaced following a report on the status of talks in The Buffalo News on Sunday.

“I want the public to understand there’s been no gun put to the head of Erie County and New York state stating, `If you do not do this, we are moving,’” he said. “I want people to understand negotiations are a long process. … A negotiation takes time. It takes compromise on both sides.”

The Bills opened talks after determining they are in need of a new stadium to be located near their existing facility in suburban Buffalo — though a downtown facility has not yet been entirely ruled out.

The Bills current lease expires in July 2023, and after the state and county committed $227 million toward extensive renovations and annual capital and game-day expenses in 2013.

Further structural repairs and modern-day upgrades are necessary, which in 2014 were estimated to cost $540 million.

The past lease was negotiated by Poloncarz and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and involved Bills Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, who died in March 2014. This time, the talks involve new owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who purchased the Bills for a then NFL-record $1.4 billion, and also own the NHL Buffalo Sabres.

The Pegulas are also seeking public money to upgrade the Sabres’ downtown arena, but those discussions have been put off and are separate from the Bills.

Though premature to discuss, the prospect of the Bills relocating is not entirely out of the question based on recent NFL history. The Raiders relocated to Las Vegas last year after failing to secure enough public funds to build a stand-alone football stadium in Oakland, California.

Similar issues led to both the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams relocating to Los Angeles over the past decade.

Wilson, who founded the Bills in Buffalo in 1960 as part of the upstart American Football League, was a long-time advocate against franchise relocation. He cemented that reputation by signing off on a strict non-relocation clause in the team’s most recent lease at a time there were concerns an outside buyer would purchase the Bills and move them to Toronto.

Current negotiations could become complicated as a result of Cuomo’s uncertain status as governor after the results of an investigation, released Tuesday, found he sexually harassed at least 11 women. Should he not heed numerous calls to resign, Cuomo could face impeachment proceedings.

Cuomo has been an advocate for keeping the Bills in Buffalo in part because of the tax dollars they generate in being the only NFL franchise based in New York.

Bills backers are encouraged in knowing the person next in line to replace Cuomo would be Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is from Buffalo.

Hochul on Tuesday said, “We’re not feeling threatened,” when asked about the possibility of the Bills relocating. “We’re having conversations with the organization. We’re going to get the result this community needs,” she added.

Poloncarz, who has called for Cuomo to resign, said the governor’s status shouldn’t have an immediate impact on stadium talks because Cuomo hasn’t been involved directly in talks, with the state being represented by legal and consulting teams.

“I do feel that the players in place right now can still move ahead regardless of what’s happening in Albany,” Poloncarz said, referring to the state capital. “If the governor is then Kathy Hochul, I do know Kathy Hochul wants to ensure the Bills stay in Buffalo.”

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