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Downstate lawyers soliciting Old First Ward business over new football stadium

A New York City law firm is sending letters to residents in Buffalo’s Old First Ward, offering to represent homeowners if the Buffalo Bills decide to acquire their properties through eminent domain for a new football stadium.

Those letters are creating a stir in City Hall, where Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk wants the Manhattan lawyers to stop what Franczyk describes as “ambulance chasing” based on false and misleading information.

He notes no stadium site selection has been made or approved.

“Our firm recently learned of the potential acquisition of your property in the enclosed public notice,” attorney Jonathan Houghton writes in a letter to residents, referencing a sketch that shows what appears to be a potential location of a football stadium.

“If the city ultimately takes title to the property,” the letter continues, “then it will be required to pay ‘just compensation’ to the former owners and will make an offer based upon the City’s highest approved appraisal. If you are not satisfied with the offer, the City will pay you the amount of the offer, and you still have the right to claim for additional compensation over and above what has already been paid.”

Houghton then goes on to say his firm, Goldstein, Rikon, Rikon & Houghton, is an expert in eminent domain, and is available to answer any questions residents might have.

The Buffalo News obtained a copy of a letter sent to a resident of Miami Street, a block in from South Park Avenue.

Franczyk criticized the New York City law firm and noted that no location has been selected or approved for a new stadium.

“Although there has been discussion of locating a new Buffalo Bills stadium inside and outside the City of Buffalo, no location has been approved or determined, including the Old First Ward or anywhere else,” Franczyk wrote to other city lawmakers. “The above-mentioned law firm is trying to use scare tactics to drum up business for its practice.

“The City of Buffalo currently has no plans of any kind to begin an eminent domain proceeding for a new Buffalo Bills football stadium anywhere in the city,” Franczyk added.

Franczyk wants the city Law Department to review Houghton’s letter and determine if Buffalo can “officially inform this firm to cease and desist solicitation of this kind as false, misleading and erroneous to Buffalo homeowners.”

Houghton did not return a call from The News.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and numerous high-powered NFL owners are on record saying a new Buffalo Bills stadium eventually will be necessary for Western New York, and New York State commissioned a study on potential sites.

A draft of that report, released last January, listed four potential sites – a new stadium in the Cobblestone District for $788 million; on South Park Avenue for $912 million; Exchange Street for $785 million; or a $550 million renovation of the existing Orchard Park stadium. The report did not favor any one site.

But on July 30, Bills owner Terry Pegula said there’s no rush for a new stadium.

“There’s been a lot of money put into Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Pegula said at the time, referring to $130 million in renovations completed last year. “We’re in no hurry. We realize that if that work was just done, how foolish would you look if you start looking around for a new stadium when we’ve just renovated the one we have? We have time. We have an existing lease on the current stadium.”

The Bills’ lease runs through the 2022 season.

Pegula was asked if he was confident the community will be supportive if the day comes when a decision has to be made.

“I hope so,” he said, “but it’s nothing urgent right now.”