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Zeldin vows to reopen Bills stadium deal as Hochul defends agreement

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Buffalo Bills Stadium Deal Debate

Republican Lee Zeldin has vowed to reopen the agreement reached for a new Buffalo Bills stadium that would replace Highmark Stadium, shown here, if he is elected governor over Democrat Kathy Hochul.

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Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin on Tuesday night vowed if he's elected governor next month to reopen the state's stadium financing agreement with the Buffalo Bills to try to negotiate a better deal for New York taxpayers.

Zeldin made the promise at his debate with Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Democrat and Buffalo native, who earlier this year announced the deal that has come under criticism from Zeldin and others who oppose spending hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding on a new stadium for a team owned by a billionaire.

"We can absolutely have a better deal," Zeldin said in response to a question from a moderator of the Spectrum News debate.

As part of the agreement for a new, $1.4 billion stadium for the Bills in Orchard Park, officials agreed to invest $600 million in state aid and $250 million in Erie County funding into the project – for a total of $850 million in public support.

Zeldin said the Bills never had threatened to leave Western New York.

Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz have defended the public investment in the project, saying Buffalo is one of the smallest markets in the National Football League and the community was at risk of losing the team to another city without significant state and county funding.

Hochul on Tuesday compared the Bills' importance to Western New York to Broadway's importance to New York City and said state income tax revenue from Bills players alone over the coming decades will more than make up for this initial state investment.

“You have to understand the Buffalo Bills' market, it's small," Hochul said. "It’s not Las Vegas or Miami. You can’t have the same price of tickets. So, you need more assistance. You can’t really compare."

Erie County lawmakers still are negotiating a community benefits agreement with the team before the final lease is signed.

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News Staff Reporter

I report on development, government, crime and schools in the northern Erie County suburbs. I grew up in the Town of Tonawanda and worked at the Post-Standard in Syracuse before joining The News in 2001. Email: swatson@buffnews.com

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