Another week of the post-Ralph Wilson era of the Buffalo Bills is now history, and with it came intriguing developments surrounding the team’s future.
The week started with The News reporting that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had rehired a super sports lawyer out of Manhattan, some called him a “ringer,” in efforts to help the state keep the Bills here. The governor also is fast-tracking the hiring of a consultant to work on new stadium plans to present to a new owner.
Next came a report from WGRZ that Manhattan real estate developer Howard Milstein was among those interested in the Bills, although Milstein’s personal publicist said he had nothing to say.
Associated Press reported Saturday that the Bills could be sold by July and that at least one prospective ownership group has toured potential stadium sites.
And The News learned Saturday that Bills President Russ Brandon dined Thursday with billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, who has been mentioned as a possible buyer of the team. Also at that dinner at Sinatra’s was Larry Quinn, former managing partner of the Sabres when Golisano was the primary owner.
All these signs point to a quickening pace surrounding the sale of the team. The News previously reported that sale of the Bills could be presented to owners of the National Football League team for approval in October.
The most tangible development surrounds Irwin Raij’s hiring to represent the state in high-stake talks about the Bills.
One state official called Raij the state’s “ringer” in the talks because of his expertise in cutting complex sports deals, from team ownership to stadium financing and construction. His firm of Foley & Lardner has been retained – for up to $350,000, plus expenses – for the next three years to represent the state in upcoming talks between the Bills and/or its new owners and the county over what steps can be taken to retain the team, including possibly building a new stadium, for longer than the deal cut last spring. Raij was the state’s attorney in the Bills long-term lease negotiations last year.
In addition, the Cuomo administration also intends to hire a consultant that will have 90 days to put together a package that could be presented to future Bills owners for options for several new stadium locations in the region.
That news from Albany suggested the Cuomo administration had the situation on the front burner.
“We want to send a message to potential ownership groups that we’re very serious about looking at a stadium as part of the package to keep the Bills in Western New York,” said Howard Glaser, the governor’s top aide.
Milstein’s entrance into the mix also added a new dimension to the situation as someone with major league experience as a former National Hockey League owner (the New York Islanders). Milstein is also Cuomo’s appointee as chairman of the Thruway Authority, and owns a vast tract of undeveloped land in the heart of Niagara Falls. Some reports have indicated a group exploring potential sites for a new Bills stadium is considering sites in Niagara County.
A state government official who interacts with Milstein was unable to confirm if the wealthy Manhattan developer is actually interested in the team.
Milstein’s personal publicist, again on Saturday, said Milstein has no comment on the matter.
Golisano, though, has expressed serious interest in buying the team after it is offered on the market, and Sinatra’s onlookers could only wonder whether the high-powered trio there Thursday were discussing the Buffalo Bills ownership.
Golisano has said nothing publicly about his interest, though sources close to him say he intends to keep the team in Western New York should he emerge as the successful bidder.
If the pace of the team’s sale now indeed quickens, it can be expected that developments including the start of an official process to market the Bills also will pick up in the weeks ahead.