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The Buffalo Bills have sold $7.2 million worth of luxury boxes and club seats for the 1999 season, putting them two-thirds of the way toward the $11 million figure needed to ensure that the team stays here at least through 2003.

Bills officials and members of the Business Backs the Bills Committee remain optimistic, but not giddy, about reaching the $11 million goal by Dec. 1. Attaining that goal would trigger $63.25 million in state-funded renovations to the Orchard Park stadium and keep the team here for at least five years past the coming season.

"Yes, we can make it," Bills treasurer Jeffrey C. Littmann said Monday, following the weekly breakfast update at the Buffalo Club. "No, we haven't gotten there yet.

"I've always felt that if we went into the season with $8 million of the goal accomplished, we'd have a good shot at this," Littmann added. "I think we'll start the season with $8 million in the bank. So I believe we have a very legitimate shot. But we all know the last miles of a marathon are the most difficult."

The Bills told the local business committee that the team has sold 115 of the 164 suites, with verbal commitments for 18 more and plans to turn 16 more suites into regional clubs like the Jamestown Club and the Albany Club.

"So we feel pretty good where we are with the suites," Littmann said. "Suites are cooking."

The focus soon will turn to the club seats, especially the outdoor club seats in the reconfigured stadium. The team has sold just 2,834 of the 6,878 outdoor club seats. Newspaper ads for those seats begin this week, with radio ads beginning when the season starts.

With only a little more than three months left in the sales drive, the business committee chaired by Erland E. Kailbourne has been working closely with chambers of commerce across the state to establish regional clubs.

The idea is to allow business people from Elmira or Corning or Albany to sit with other business people from their area, whether it's to forge friendships or make business deals.

The Bills expect to have at least seven such clubs taking up a total of 16 suites
and two huge club sections:

The Rochester and Toronto clubs each will take one of the new 450-seat enclosed club sections in the end zone and turn it into a private club.

For $235 per game in 1999, a business owner from Rochester would get a game ticket, license fee, open bar, a full buffet and ground transportation to the game.

"You couldn't get a hotel room in New York City for that," Littmann said.

The Rochester and Toronto areas also are expected to take one dugout suite each.

The Syracuse Club will merge six suites into one 114-seat club.

The Jamestown, Corning, Elmira, Albany (and possibly Niagara Region) clubs each will merge two suites into one club, with the cost ranging from $235 to $350 per seat per game, depending on seat location and travel costs.

Besides the other amenities, some of these clubs also will supply charter flights to Buffalo, at an additional cost.

Local chambers of commerce in these regions are working closely with the Bills to set up regional clubs in these 16 suites and two enclosed club areas.

"A few of these are slam dunks, and a few of these are heavy lifts," Littmann said. "I'd say it's 75-25 that we move all this inventory."

How the Bills fare on the field will be a key factor in the sales effort this fall, especially for the club seats being purchased by individual fans and small businesses, according to local business leaders and team officials.

Following Monday's meeting, Committee Vice Chairman Ronald K. Zoeller said he was impressed by the continued commitment of the committee.

"This business committee has lost no momentum at all in 2 1/2 months," Zoeller said. "There are as many people coming to the meetings and working just as hard behind the scenes as they did in early June."

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