Hochul confident Bills’ stadium deal can be done by March

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — New York governor Kathy Hochul on Monday expressed confidence she can reach a deal involving hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills in time to be included on the state’s budget due in April.

Hochul said she has provided the team two timelines to negotiate an agreement by either the end of the year or extend talks through March. The governor added the Bills will have the final say whether to have the new facility based near their current home in Orchard Park or downtown.

“We’re very intently focused on keeping the Bills here. If Orchard Park is their first choice, their only choice, it’s Orchard Park, and we’ll make it happen,” Hochul said during an appearance in Warsaw, New York.

As for the two timelines, Hochul said, “there is no hard deadline” to get a deal completed by the end of the year should the Bills agree to extend talks.

“My desire — I’m a Buffalo Bills fan — is let’s lock this down, let’s get it done,” said Hochul, who is from Buffalo. “We’re very excited about announcing a deal hopefully in the near future. But a lot of devil in the details.”

Hochul’s comments were the most extensive regarding negotiations with the Bills’ parent company, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, since she took over as governor following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in August.

PSE responded by releasing a statement from executive vice president Ron Raccuia, who said: “We appreciate the governor’s comments this morning. There’s a lot of work to be done, and we continue those efforts.”

It’s unclear whether PSE favors pushing talks into the new year.

Raccuia, who is PSE’s lead negotiator, had previously said the Bills would prefer having a deal in place by the end of this year, saying: “If we get to January, and there’s no new deal done, you should be really be concerned.”

Though the project to replace the Bills’ existing 48-year-old Highmark Stadium couldn’t get started until the state budget is approved, PSE has noted having an agreement in place would allow it to proceed with preliminary plans, including hiring an architect.

A bigger question not addressed is how much money the state and Erie County will be required to commit, with the Bills anticipating taxpayers will be asked to bear more than 50% of the cost.

A state study released last month projected building a new 60,000-plus seat stadium across the street from the Bills’ current facility would cost $1.354 billion. Building one downtown would potentially cost an additional $750 million to the total because of the need to acquire land and make necessary infrastructure upgrades.

The study backed by the Bills in determining further renovations to Highmark would be cost-prohibitive at $862 million.

Time is becoming an issue, with Raccuia previously saying PSE has no intention of renewing the lease once it expires in July 2023 if no deal is in place. The threat of relocation is a possibility — even though it has not been raised in talks. Raccuia maintains the Bills are solely focused on reaching an agreement with state and county officials to help finance the new stadium.

PSE also prefers having a deal in place in time for the budget because Hochul is entering an election year and will have little time for negotiations while campaigning. PSE is also concerned negotiations would have to start over with a new administration should Hochul not be re-elected.

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