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Grisanti phone survey airs views on stadium

Hundreds of Western New Yorkers picked up their phones in recent weeks to hear the voice of State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti talking about the Buffalo Bills.

Grisanti's robocall sought to gauge the public's reaction to news that the team planned to seek roughly $200 million in renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium as it negotiates a new lease with Erie County and New York State.

The result: Half of those who responded said they want the Bills to share the costs with the state. Of the rest of the respondents, more people thought that the Bills should pay for the renovations than thought the state should pick up the whole tab.

The telephone survey was paid for by a statewide campaign committee and was not considered a scientific poll, but it gives the first glimpse of the mood of voters as state and county officials seek to reach a new stadium deal with the Bills.

Grisanti, R-Buffalo, also has sent a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urging him to seek a "partnership" with the Bills in which the team would pay for a portion of the stadium renovations.

"This is not the roaring 1990s, when the State of New York last committed tens of millions of dollars for capital enhancements for Ralph Wilson Stadium with no matching commitment from the Buffalo Bills NFL franchise," Grisanti wrote in an April 23 letter to Cuomo. "We are in a period of economic recovery."

The Buffalo News reported last month that the Bills plan to seek a renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium that is expected to cost slightly more than $200 million.

Little has been said by those involved in the negotiations about how such a stadium project would be funded, but the last renovation was paid for by the state at a cost of $63 million. The county, since then, has spent $3 million a year to upgrade and maintain the Orchard Park complex, in addition to game day expenses.

The current lease deal, a three-party arrangement by the Bills, Erie County and the state's Empire State Development Corp., expires in July 2013.

Grisanti's survey, paid for by the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, dialed 10,000 households in Erie County. The 2,668 people who responded were given three choices regarding a proposed $200 million stadium renovation: have New York State pay for it all; split the renovation cost evenly between the state and the Bills; or have the Bills fund the entire project, said Douglas Curella, Grisanti's chief of staff.

Fifty percent of those who responded said they wanted the cost split evenly between the two; 30.5 percent wanted the Bills to pay for the project; and 19.5 percent wanted the state to fund it, Curella said.

Grisanti said he used the survey results to confirm what he already believed -- that any stadium upgrades shouldn't be entirely funded by the public.

"I believe in the Bills," Grisanti said. "I think they're great for the community and Western New York, but I also think that we need to have a partnership with the taxpayers of Erie County and New York State with the Buffalo Bills."

Grisanti does not have a direct role in the stadium lease negotiations, but as a state legislator could be asked to vote on legislation regarding a stadium project as legislators did in 1998 when the last lease was signed.

"Whatever the state puts up, it should be matched," Grisanti said.