And here we go:
With a revised stadium feasibility study in hand, the Buffalo Bills are preparing to open discussions with state and local governments to determine whether to renovate the current facility or build a new home either near the existing suburban site or downtown.
“We’re ready to have the conversation,” Pegula Sports and Entertainment executive vice president Ron Raccuia told The Associated Press by phone on Tuesday.
“We hope to start quickly. Obviously, this is Easter Week and New York state is finalizing its budget. So those are two factors,” he added. “If we have to go to Albany or if Albany’s coming to us, or we’re going to Zoom, we’ll figure it out.”
The Buffalo Bills stadium saga has been long and weird since Kim and Terry Pegula bought the team in 2014, with the owners repeatedly putting off talk about replacing their 1973-built (but 2014-renovated, for $130 million in mostly public money) stadium even as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell insisted a new one was necessary and Gov. Andrew “Wandering Hands” Cuomo kept raising the issue and even appointed a state commission to look into where to build one. As recently as last month, there was speculation in the press — not in the Buffalo News, mind you, which has yet to meet a stadium proposal it doesn’t like — that the pandemic could put off any stadium talk for a bit. But now apparently the time is ripe, with the Pegulas dusting off a study from January 2020 and updating it for post-Covid economics, and ready to submit it to the state and Erie County to see what kind of checks it can shake loose.
The size of the checks could be pretty huge. In 2018, Erie County Executive Mark Polancarz estimated that a new stadium could cost $1 billion; a stadium study from 2014, according to the Associated Press, projected $540 million for the next series of renovations, “including structural improvements and rebuilding the stadium’s third deck.” (The new study, according to AP, also includes a request for “much-needed upgrades” to the arena occupied by the Sabres, another Pegula property.) The Pegulas have been pretty clear that Buffalo isn’t the kind of market where they can earn back a half-billion-dollars or so by jacking up ticket prices or requiring personal seat licenses, so the only way this makes sense is if they get a bundle of cash from the state, the county, or both.
Makes sense for them, that is. From the perspective of New York state and Erie County, there’s no way that dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a new stadium could possibly pencil out, especially since the Pegulas’ purchase agreement requires them to keep the team in Buffalo. The argument for public funding of a new or renovated stadium, then, comes down to: Hand over a huge pile of taxpayer cash for a new stadium or else your football team will keep playing right where it always has.
But then, that’s how stadium talks so often go: Somebody starts out talking about the “need” for a new building, and soon the question becomes How do we pay for this? instead of Does it actually make sense to spend all this money for the marginal revenues it would bring in? The weird part in Buffalo has always been that it’s been the governor and local news media taking the lead (and Goodell, always Goodell) while the team owners drag their feet. But that now looks ready to change, and all will be right with the world again. The only question is whether the Bills owners will really try to sneak something into the current state budget at the last second, as Raccuia implied; given that the budget is due tomorrow, that seems like a reach, but maybe he figures dusting off a year-old study can get dibs on some of that $2 billion in stimulus money New York is set to get from Washington, or maybe that $2 trillion infrastructure plan Joe Biden is about to propose, before anybody gets any crazy ideas to spend it on things that don’t benefit billionaires.