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Bills stadium deal approaching, despite no mention in Hochul address

Bills stadium deal approaching, despite no mention in Hochul address

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No news is good news for the pro-stadium crowd.

Gov. Kathy Hochul did not mention during her state of the state address Wednesday in Albany the ongoing negotiations about how much the public will help to finance a new $1.4 billion stadium for the Buffalo Bills. But all parties involved – the state, Erie County and the NFL team’s representatives – have indicated they’re approaching a deal, despite passing the Dec. 31 deadline long established by the Bills.

“All parties continue to work together in a warm and constructive manner to get an agreement in place as soon as possible,” Jim Wilkinson, a spokesperson for the Bills’ parent company, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, told The Buffalo News.

Hochul, a Western New York native, has repeatedly said she intends to keep the Bills here and as recently as Dec. 20 said about team owners Terry and Kim Pegula: “If Orchard Park is their first choice, their only choice, it’s Orchard Park, and we’ll make it happen.”

Hochul previously stated she was confident a deal could be reached by March.

NFL owners would need to vote on any agreement at the annual league meeting from March 27 to 30 in Palm Beach, Fla.

The final state budget is due April 1.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at his weekly news briefing Tuesday that the parties have engaged in “significant discussions over the last two weeks” and that “some progress has been made,” but that a deal was not expected in the next few days.

“I think the idea is we’re going to get a deal done that’s right for all, that benefits the community, that ensures the Buffalo Bills are the Buffalo Bills,” Poloncarz said.

Public contributions toward the stadium could be around 73% of the cost – or $1.022 billion of the estimated $1.4 billion price tag – as has been standard for recent stadium deals in other small market NFL cities, according to a Buffalo News analysis.

The funding would come from the county, state and possibly federal governments, with the county acting as the stadium’s owner and landlord, as it has since the Bills’ current stadium opened in 1973.

A study commissioned by Erie County determined Highmark Stadium will require extensive renovations to address structural issues in the next five years.

Ron Raccuia, the PSE executive vice president and Bills’ lead negotiator, said after the NFL owners’ meeting in October that the team could open a new stadium as early as 2026, were a financing deal with the state reached by Dec. 31.

That timeline presumably remains possible, though PSE officials declined to address it specifically.

The Bills’ 10-year lease at Highmark Stadium expires in July 2023. PSE representatives have said the Bills will not agree to extend the lease until a deal is in place to fund a new venue.

“Was Dec. 31 a drop-dead deadline? Obviously not,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant who has worked with the majority of NFL teams. “But remember, there’s only one overtime and it’s 10 minutes long. We’re in overtime here. They still can get it done.”

A deal reached soon would likely be announced in the midst of post-season festivities. The Bills earned a playoff berth with last Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons and could clinch the division title this weekend with a victory over the New York Jets in the final regular-season game.

"I would love to see them announce an agreement during the NFL playoffs," said former Lieutenant Gov. Robert Duffy, who was a key participant when the current lease was negotiated one decade ago.

"I have complete confidence that Gov. Hochul, County Executive Poloncarz and the Buffalo Bills will get these negotiations over the finish line," said Duffy, who is now president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. "They are all honorable and committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo."

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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