With the Buffalo Bills' early exit clause out of the way, attention now turns to what happens next – when the current lease expires in 2023.
As expected, the Pegulas told Erie County government this week they have no intention of exercising the early termination clause of the Buffalo Bills stadium lease agreement.
The existing 10-year lease agreement gives the Bills a seventh-year out option, provided the team notified the county by Feb. 28.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he asked the Bills to submit a letter showing their "commitment and good faith" to sticking with the existing stadium agreement until its expiration in July 2023.
In response, Gregg Brandon, general counsel representing the Bills, sent a letter via email and Federal Express.
"Although there is no legal requirement to do so, we are notifying the county and the ECSC that the Bills will not be exercising its right of termination as enumerated in Sec. 7.1 of the 2013 Stadium Lease," the letter says.
ECSC refers to Erie County Stadium Corp., a subsidiary of New York State's Empire State Development agency that represents the state's interest in the lease.
There are media reports of my receipt of a letter from @BuffaloBills confirming they will not early terminate the lease. That is correct. I requested the letter from them to show their commitment and good faith to the county and community. They delivered and I thank them. #Bills pic.twitter.com/1O94dILXJY
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) January 31, 2020
The county, state and Bills are in the early stages of negotiations for a new stadium lease agreement.
The one-time, early termination clause in the existing lease agreement was considered the one rare weak spot for the state and county. It would have given the Bills the ability to sever their ties to the stadium before the 10-year lease ran its course.
There has been no expectation the Bills would exercise their early termination rights.
The Pegulas have already invested $18 million in stadium renovations for improved club seating and digital ribbon board signage and another $18 million earmarked to upgrade the ADPRO training facility at the stadium complex. The county executive has repeatedly pointed to that as a sign the Pegulas aren't going anywhere in the near future.
The possibility of a new stadium for the Bills has not been ruled out.
A "significant renovation" of New Era Field, however, would apparently satisfy the league's desire for the Bills to have an improved venue, The Buffalo News reported Wednesday.
In a statement released Wednesday, Bills co-owners Terry and Kim Pegula said a market research study they commissioned from Denver-based CAA ICON last year has been completed. The intent of the survey was to examine "potential stadium sites, design, and financial planning for all options." That included renovation of New Era Field. More than 30,000 people were surveyed, Kim Pegula said at the NFL owners meetings last March, but the findings will not be publicly released.
During a Super Bowl news conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "A stadium that is going to be competitive with other stadiums around the league is going to be important in that context and I think everyone’s committed to that, whether it’s a new significant renovation or whether it’s a completely new facility in a new location."
When Poloncarz ran for re-election, he said he would ensure that in any new stadium lease agreement, the county would continue to include a "non-relocation clause" that would place a hefty financial penalty on any future Bills owner who attempts to move the team while the new lease agreement is in effect.
At least $1 million in public money has been set aside as part of a "New Stadium Fund" since 2018 that could be used for future stadium planning.