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New practice field for Bills will be on Erie County land

Buffalo Bills players will be on Erie County-owned land when they tackle, throw, catch and run on a new practice field.

Erie County lawmakers on Thursday voted 10-1 to take ownership of the three acres next to the Bills' existing practice facilities.

Last week, a few legislators questioned whether Erie County should take title to the land. The Bills bought the property with the intention of converting it into a $4.5 million practice field.

"In general, I'm not in favor of handing out public money for these kinds of things, but this isn't the hill to die on," said Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo.

The Bills are making a huge investment in the property and the county should be happy to own such a community asset, Mills said.

But Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, said the billion-dollar NFL team should own its practice field and pay taxes on it.

"I still oppose this wholeheartedly," he said. "We should not be giving more tax breaks to NFL teams that are worth billions of dollars. I do not support this. I will not support this. I will never vote in support of giving any more tax breaks to the NFL."

Burke had expressed prior reservations about supporting the ownership transfer last week. But he said Thursday that the Legislature should not behave like "bean counters over minuscule tax revenue" that would not have been available to the county if the Pegula family hadn't made its billion-dollar investment in the Bills.

The property will now be rolled into the 197-acre stadium complex already owned by Erie County, which includes New Era Field, the Bills' Field House and other practice facilities.

The team has said its investment in the practice field – not the taxes – should be the focus.

The Bills currently have one outdoor practice field. The team purchased property south of the Field House and adjacent to the existing outdoor practice field so it can build a second one, according to the team. Other NFL teams typically have more than one outdoor practice field. The Bills plan to use the second practice field throughout the spring, summer and fall practice sessions.

Property taxes on the three-acre parcel amount to approximately $1,600 a year, according to the county's Department of Real Property Services. The team said the county's share of property taxes amounts to only $211 a year. With improvements to the property, the tax would be higher.

The additional practice field sought by the Bills would realign Regional Drive so that it winds around the new field. The Bills would pay for the construction of the new field, while the county would pay for the realignment as part of its annual capital improvements allowance.

The Erie County Stadium Corporation, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, approved the lease modification last month.

Lorigo sought to kill the lease request in his Economic Development Committee. But he later agreed to discharge it from committee so that the full Legislature could vote on it at its regular session.

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