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Another Voice: Commuter rail to Southtowns should accompany new stadium plan

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The worst-kept secret in sports economics is that constructing shiny multibillion-dollar stadiums rarely delivers significant impact to the economy of the surrounding community.

A recent story from the Investigative Post explained that building a new stadium would have an economic benefit similar to building a new Target store, which is quite sad, especially considering it would be one of the largest public investments in our region’s history.

This isn’t to say the Bills don’t add value to the community because they certainly do, even if it is mostly emotional. The Bills are a point of pride for Buffalonians; they give us a sense of national and international relevance. Our relatively small community is just one of 32 markets in the world to call an NFL franchise our own, and that’s undeniably special.

I don’t have to explain how important the Bills are to the identity of our community, but how much money will people in a poor city pay so that billionaires don’t take our sense of identity and community away?

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While publicly funding a professional sports stadium so that billionaires can make more profit is a difficult pill to swallow, it appears as though the people of Buffalo would prefer that to the team leaving. If that’s the case, we must then shift our focus from opposition to extracting as much economic and community benefit from this project as possible.

Assuming the new stadium will be built in Orchard Park, we can quite literally lay the tracks to mass transit in our region, while also ensuring Buffalo gets a fair share of the mass transit dollars that otherwise could be spent outside Western New York.

During the 1996 stadium lease negotiations between the Bills and Erie County, a proposal gained traction to build a commuter train from the stadium to downtown Buffalo. Eventually, it was tabled due to costs, but with New York receiving $10 billion for mass transit through the bipartisan infrastructure package, now is the time to tie these projects together.

By including a train, whether it be light rail or electric streetcars from downtown Buffalo to the stadium, we can make this stadium investment one that brings real economic development to our region. Downtown Buffalo would have surges of people for home games, but most importantly, it would be the catalyst for developing Buffalo’s public transportation network.

The increased connectivity between the new stadium and downtown Buffalo could satisfy many of the benefits of having a stadium in downtown Buffalo without the drawbacks. A train from the stadium to downtown Buffalo would also serve as a park and ride for Southtowns commuters. Eventually, we could connect people from across Western New York in a safe, convenient and environmentally friendly way.

Pat Burke, a Buffalo Democrat, represents the 142nd District in the State Assembly.

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