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Proposal backing relocation of Bills to county tabled

A group of Niagara County lawmakers on Wednesday put off declaring their support for relocating the Buffalo Bills to the county for fear of stepping on neighbors' toes.

The Niagara County Legislature's Economic Development Committee tabled a proposal that would put legislators on record of favoring the NFL franchise's move here, saying they needed to reach out to other stakeholders, namely Erie County and Bills officials, before making a statement.

"Before we say this is how we feel," said Committee Chairman Richard E. Updegrove, "we should find out how they feel."

The committee had been scheduled to take up a measure sponsored by four Niagara Falls Democrats: Legislators Jason J. Cafarella, Renae Kimble, Sean J. O'Connor and Dennis F. Virtuoso.

Cafarella, the lead sponsor, said the proposal is only meant to support attracting the Bills franchise if it decides to move from its home at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, not to lure it away from Erie County, where the team has a lease through 2012.

Glenn Fitzgerald, a Williamsville resident who is promoting the idea through a Web site, www.niagarabills.com, told the committee he believes the team's viability would be strengthened if it moved to the Niagara Falls area. The area would provide a central location better able to draw from Toronto and other areas of southern Ontario, as well as Western New York and the Rochester area.

Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the primary concern of his constituents is the issue of any potential taxpayer subsidy that would be connected to moving the team here.

While saying he agrees with the spirit of the resolution and noting the importance of the Bills in Western New York, Updegrove said he would feel more comfortable supporting the measure if lawmakers first contacted Erie County government leaders.

Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, said a committee approval at this point may look like the group was trying to pre-empt other actions prior to the franchise moving.

Legislator Andrea McNulty, R-North Tonawanda, said that while it may be "kind of ridiculous" to think Erie County or other officials might be offended by a statement from Niagara County lawmakers, she asked committee members to consider how they would feel if the situation was reversed.

Bills fans face the possibility the franchise will leave the area for a larger market should the estate of 90-year-old owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. decide to shop the team to the highest bidder.

The Bills, who played two games in Toronto in 2008, have a deal to play six more games in the Rogers Centre through 2012.

Fitzgerald said he has begun the process of reaching out to Bills management about his idea.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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