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Cuomo expresses doubts about need for new Bills stadium

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday he is “not convinced” of the need for a new stadium once the Buffalo Bills are sold, while dismissing Manhattan billionaire Donald J. Trump’s claim that only he among prospective bidders for the team is committed to keeping it in Western New York.

Speaking to reporters at SUNY Buffalo State following the ceremonial signing of a new bill to fight heroin abuse, the governor issued his strongest warning yet against overoptimistic expectations of state financing for any prospective stadium.

“The state would do its part; the county would do its part, but only if you really need a new stadium, which, frankly, I am not convinced of,” he said. “It would be more a function of what the new buyer and the NFL say is the condition to keep it here. We have to see how it develops down the road.”

Cuomo has tempered his views on financing a new stadium in recent weeks, especially as $90 million of public money fuels $130 million worth of new improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, the current home of the Bills. When National Football League Commissioner Roger E. Goodell strongly suggested in May that the Bills would need a new stadium, the governor said: “We will do what we have to do to keep the Bills in Western New York.”

“If a new stadium is what’s needed and is possible, it will get done,” Cuomo said then.

Then earlier this month while in Buffalo, he sounded a more cautious tone, noting the state would “be very clear about the terms and conditions” before asking taxpayers to help fund a new stadium.

“If it’s a modification of the existing stadium, great, because we’re already going down that road. If they say, ‘We won’t stay unless there’s a new stadium,’ then we’re going to have to probe that discussion,” Cuomo said then. “Then it’s about the money … and who’s going to pay.”

Tuesday, he asked even more questions, calling stadiums “expensive creatures” and noting the current expenditures of state and county money in Orchard Park.

“No one is anxious to build a stadium if we don’t have to build a stadium. … No one is anxious to pay for a stadium,” Cuomo said.

Even if all sides – public and private interests – contribute money, he said, “it is still expensive.” Nevertheless, he pointed to the state’s participation in a New Stadium Working Group exploring the concept of a new facility, as well as possible sites, and did not dismiss the idea of state participation under the right conditions.

Meanwhile, the governor essentially denied the substance of Trump’s Tuesday tweet claiming that all others are not committed to retaining the team in Buffalo.

“I know, at this point, a number of bidders who are seriously considering going forward who are committed to keeping the team in Western New York,” Cuomo said.

Trump made the proclamation in between other tweets about his hotel properties, his hair and Tuesday’s political primary races.

“I am the only potential owner of the @buffalobills who will keep the team in Buffalo, where it belongs!” Trump wrote.

Trump, whose senior adviser last week confirmed that he was among those potential bidders getting a nondisclosure agreement to sign in order to get a look at the Bills’ financial picture, did not offer any other commentary or proof of why he is the only would-be owner who would not move the team.

In the past, Trump has said that additional renovation work at Ralph Wilson Stadium would likely be needed if he purchased the team but that, over the long term, a new stadium is needed. He has dismissed the idea of building a new stadium next to the current facility in Orchard Park and has said he has had advisers look at a couple of sites within the Buffalo city limits as possible stadium locations.

Asked for a comment on Trump’s statement Tuesday, Michael D. Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and a senior adviser to Trump, said, “The tweet speaks for itself.”

Cuomo sounded a playful note when asked about Trump’s tweet. “Then it must be true. Who would argue with that?” Cuomo said when told what Trump had tweeted. “Besides the source, what’s your question?”

He ducked a question about whether he considered Trump a serious bidder for the team.

“I don’t want to characterize what I think of him,” the governor said. “But I didn’t see his tweet. Let’s put it that way.”

At SUNY Buffalo State’s Burchfield Penney Art Center, Cuomo again ceremonially signed legislation designed to combat New York’s growing heroin and opioid epidemic. Joined by most of the area’s legislative delegation and surrounded by state troopers in dress uniform, he approved a host of measures to improve treatment of addiction and strengthen penalties against heroin distribution, among other provisions.

The presentation included an emotional speech by Deanna Kocialski of Lancaster, whose 17-year-old son, Matt, died of a heroin overdose in 2009. She thanked the governor and State Legislature for passing the new bill.

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