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Cuomo hires law firm to keep Bills in Buffalo

ALBANY – The Cuomo administration will be hiring a consultant to quickly turn around a plan to present to would-be owners of the Buffalo Bills in the months ahead depicting everything from possible new stadium sites in Western New York to the role of the state in a new stadium to the financial benefits of keeping the team in the region.

“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 state operations director who was a key player in the 2012 and 2013 talks that led to the stadium lease deal designed to keep the team from moving for at least the next seven years.

A consultant is expected to be hired in the next few weeks for a contract that calls for the as-yet unknown company to develop a presentation within 90 days that could be presented to future owners with options for possibly several new stadium locations in the region.

The soon-to-be-signed contract comes after the state’s economic development agency a couple weeks ago quietly retained the services of a Manhattan law firm to represent the state’s interest in upcoming expected talks to persuade the team’s future owners to remain in Western New York.

The two moves represent a sudden push by the Cuomo administration since the recent death of Ralph Wilson Jr., the team’s longtime owner, to keep the state’s interests in play as the team’s future remains uncertain.

The $350,000 contract with Foley & Lardner law firm was approved just a few weeks after the death of the team’s owner, Ralph Wilson Jr. The contract, without competitive bidding, calls for the payment of a “partner rate” of $495 per hour, as well as any expenses the firm incurs on behalf.

The hiring of the firm and its partner Irwin Raij, who was retained by the state in 2012 to help negotiate the stadium lease deal with the county and team, was approved recently by the Empire State Development Corp., the governor’s economic development agency. It was reported in the official New York State Contract Reporter, which advertises contract offerings and awards. The contract calls for up to $350,000 in payments to the firm over the next three years.

In a document provided by the economic development agency to The Buffalo News, officials noted that the Bills have the legal right in 2020 to walk away from its stadium lease deal for a payment of $28 million. During any other period of the 10-year lease signed in the spring of 2013, the team must pay the state a $400 million penalty for leaving the area.

That contract also created the New Stadium Working Group, whose members include representatives from the state, county and the team, as well as U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. The group is charged with looking into the development of a new stadium or major renovation of the Wilson stadium.

“Moreover," the state document said, “with the passing of the Bills owner, Ralph Wilson Jr., it is expected that the team will be sold, and as such, it is imperative that the state and ESD study and develop a plan to insure the long term viability of the franchise in Western New York."

The hiring of Foley & Lardner is needed, the agency said, “because of the complexity of the transaction and the specialized nature of professional stadium construction and lease arrangements."

The firm will help the state with the “planning, investigation and other due diligence necessary to keep the Bills in WNY," the document states.

The Buffalo News reported in 2012 that Raij’s firm was hired for an initial $50,000 to represent the state in contract talks with the team and county. It was not immediately clear Wednesday morning how much the state eventually paid for the firm’s legal work.

Hiring the same firm gets Raij with the deal. Before joining Foley & Lardner, Raij was a senior attorney at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the time when Cuomo was that federal agency’s secretary during the Clinton administration. Raij co-chairs the firm’s Sports Industry Team. Besides working the Bills’ stadium lease deal in 2013, he has represented Guggenheim Baseball Management in its purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and has worked with Major League Baseball on the prospects for a new Oakland A’s stadium and was involved in the legal work on the deal that brought the Washington Nationals from Montreal.

His NFL work also has included serving as legal counsel to the Miami Dolphins regarding stadium renovations. He’s also worked with Major League Baseball for a new stadium for the Miami Marlins and represented the investors who purchased the Texas Rangers. He also was part of a team assisting the city of Sacramento to evaluate possibilities for a new entertainment and stadium complex and was lead counsel in securing stadium lease deals for Major League Soccer teams.

“We wanted to be sure that we were well-prepared to provide input from all the stakeholders. We wanted to be sure that we were well prepared to deal with what we expect will be rapidly unfolding potential situations with ownership groups and we believe develop of a new stadium could be a very powerful tool to convince a future ownership group to stay in New York," Glaser told The Buffalo News in an interview this morning.

The ownership teams will have lawyers and financial advisors with extensive expertise, and the law firm the state hired, and especially Riaj, will be able to match those skills potential owners bring to the table to represent them, state officials said.

Uncertain in all this is one key factor: timing. It is unclear when the team might be sold.

The contract for the consulting group, expected to be announced in the coming weeks, will review the financial analysis for a new stadium development, the marketplace and potential sites. That information the consultant prepares will help shape the state’s likely negotiations with future owners of the team over whether to build a new stadium, as well as to show to those owners that Cuomo administration is serious about keeping the team in the region.

The awarding of the contract appears to have been done quickly. Board members of the Empire State Development Corp. were notified, in writing, of the contract proposal on April 16. It was approved, and the contract was back-dated to begin April 1. Money for the contract’s payments will come from the economic development agency “or other source to be determined," according to a state agency document.

The arrangement with the firm was also contract was also a “single source," meaning it did not go out for competitive bid. The New York State Contract Reporter said the Cuomo administration believes such a contract is necessary in this case because of the firm’s expertise in sports stadium and ownership issues.


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