A study on the best site for a new Buffalo Bills stadium will wrap up soon and the state will release the document to the public, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.
This is a new, state-commissioned analysis and not the study produced in 2019 on behalf of the Bills that largely remains hidden from public view, despite some details leaking out, officials confirmed.
What is an NFL stadium and team worth to a municipality and a state? That’s a question the Bills are attempting to answer as part of their negotiating strategy with Erie County and New York State.
The Bills have proposed a $1.4 billion, 60,000-plus-seat stadium in Orchard Park, across Abbott Road from Highmark Stadium, where the team has played for 48 years. But some locals prefer a new stadium near downtown Buffalo.
“There's a study going on by a company that's just assessing the different options and we're going to release the study in about two months,” Hochul told reporters at an appearance in Rochester.
The Bills want taxpayers to foot most of the bill for the new stadium and have said they won’t renew the lease on Erie County-owned Highmark if there is no deal before the lease expires in July 2023. The cost of the project means the state is front and center in the negotiations.
What happens during official NFL owners meetings or informal chats could have a dramatic impact on both the future of a stadium and the Bills.
Hochul did not rule out a downtown stadium when asked about it Wednesday during an event at the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston.
"We are waiting for the results of a study that's been underway for a number of months now and I think that will come out in the next couple of weeks,” she said. “We're studying all the options."
Hochul, a Bills fan who started her Niagara County media availability by saying she had received compliments all over the state about the Bills' 35-0 win Sunday in Miami, said the stadium situation is much on her mind.
"I think about this constantly. I've talked to people behind the scenes just to gather information. But we'll make the right decision for the people of Western New York," Hochul said.
When Hochul left the podium after a 6-minute session with reporters, one shouted a question, asking if the state would release the stadium study.
Bills and PSE officials insist that a growing list of issues and problems at Highmark Stadium can only be solved by building a new stadium.
"Yes," Hochul said over her shoulder as she was leaving.
Hochul has promised greater transparency in state government since taking over as governor. However, her office on Wednesday did not provide basic details about the study contract, such as its cost.
Matthew Janiszewski, a Hochul spokesman, said he did not know which company is performing the study on the state’s behalf.
The state previously hired Los Angeles-based AECOM to look at potential sites for a new Bills stadium in 2014, a time when the team was up for sale following the death of its founding owner, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. State officials hoped the AECOM analysis could help guide them and any new Bills owner through decisions about a future stadium.
The study, released in January 2015, determined three sites adjacent to downtown Buffalo were best for a new stadium. It added that a major reconstruction of the existing stadium could be performed, though without the spinoff economic benefits of a venue in the city.
The Pegulas have formed a tight group that is privy to the lease negotiations, opting to leave most of their executives free to focus on running the day-to-day operations of their football team and other entities.
The Bills, under current owners Terry and Kim Pegula, later hired CAA ICON and Populous to conduct their own extensive review of possible stadium sites.
That analysis, completed in late 2019, determined a stadium built near downtown would cost as much as $1 billion more than a new venue constructed in Orchard Park, the Athletic reported last week. A source familiar with the study confirmed this finding to The Buffalo News.
That’s because it would take longer to build at the Buffalo site, which would require costly additional work on utilities and roads into and near the property.
Ron Raccuia, executive vice president of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, reiterated Wednesday that the team has no intention of releasing the privately commissioned 2019 study, though the Bills have shared it with government negotiators.
However, a group of Republican and Conservative members of the Erie County Legislature has introduced a resolution directing PSE, the state and the county to publicly release the 2019 report.
Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, said the county does not possess a copy of the report commissioned by the Bills.