ALBANY – After a couple weeks of silence while his name swirled about a potential move to buy the Buffalo Bills, billionaire Manhattan banker and real estate developer Howard Milstein said Monday he will not be attempting to buy the team when it goes on the market sometime this year.
But Milstein, who is also chairman of the state Thruway Authority, floated an offer to whoever might get the team: he has some land in downtown Niagara Falls that might be suitable for a new stadium.
Milstein has been mentioned as being seriously interested in purchasing the Bills, but on Monday his personal publicist, after two weeks of no comments, said the developer will not be a bidder but he, along with his Niagara Falls Redevelopment company, would be interested in helping with efforts to keep the team in Western New York.
“We are prepared to put substantial personal and business resources behind that effort, including our land in Niagara Falls, but this does not include participating in the sales process or making a bid to purchase the team,” Milstein said in a written statement.
“Through my work with the New York State Thruway Authority, I have come to even more fully appreciate and respect the role the team plays in the Western New York community and understand the critical importance of keeping the Bills in Western New York. I love football. I have always loved football and can’t imagine our community losing this great team.”
Milstein added that he looks forward to “working with all parties and any prospective buyers to help keep the Bills in upstate New York where they belong.”
Milstein’s spokesman said that Edward Milstein, who owns the Niagara Falls properties with his brother, is also not going to be a bidder for the Bills.
Milstein and his spokesman, James Haggerty, declined to comment or answer any further questions about the matter.
Milstein and his brother own more than 440 parcels of land on about 85 acres in downtown Niagara Falls, which they began acquiring in the late 1990s.
Their main company, Niagara Falls Redevelopment, also has rights to 142 acres through a contract with the city, which is situated within view of the Seneca Nation’s casino and a short walk to the falls. Milstein has gotten criticism for amassing the land but not doing anything with the properties, which are an eyesore of vacant land, chain-link fences and boarded-up houses.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who calls himself an “agnostic” regarding where the Bills locate as long as they stay in Western New York, said Milstein’s downtown property is an obvious possibility for any new owner that might be interested in going to Niagara Falls.
“I don’t know what other property you’d be looking at (in Niagara Falls). It’s the single, largest undeveloped parcel that’s potentially suitable,” Dyster said.
Asked if his city could handle the traffic a downtown stadium would generate, Dyster said he would leave that for the experts if such a proposal ever advances.
Milstein failed in 1999 in his bid to buy the Washington Redskins. He is chairman of the board of the New York Private Bank & Trust and its operating bank, Emigrant Bank, and his family owns thousands of properties with an emphasis on New York City development.
Milstein and his wife have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to New York politicians over the past 10 years, including hefty campaign contributions to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who in 2011 made Milstein the head of the Thruway system.
The comments by Milstein came on the same day that a consulting firm started scouting possible locations for a new football stadium.
The work, part of a state contract with a Manhattan law firm, includes looking at up to a dozen sites and coming up with a final list of three or four specific locations, along with a massive amount of financial, infrastructure and other details that can be used by a potential bidder in judging the feasibility of building a new stadium and determining where it might be built.
News Niagara Reporter Aaron Besecker contributed to this report.