Buffalo Bills stadium report delayed, because writing is hard!

A New York state-commissioned report on the future home of the Buffalo Bills that was expected to arrive Friday didn’t, with the Associated Press citing “a person familiar with” the consulting firm blaming “the large volume of information.” Yeah, I’ve used that excuse too.

While we wait for the report, though, it looks like Buffalo elected officials are increasingly declining to take the Buffalo News’s bait that a new stadium is inevitable, and it’s just a matter of where to put it:

County Executive Mark Poloncarz tells 2 On Your Side his preference is at this point is a renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“I’ve said all along the one thing we cannot do is take off the table Ralph Wilson Stadium. We’re investing $130 million there, one of the reasons it was done was not only to make it good for the next five to ten years, but many years thereafter. After the investments we’re doing now it’s going to be a different stadium and when people go there this fall they’re going to realize that it’s still very viable to have the Ralph as the home of the Bills,” said Poloncarz.

We also asked Mayor Byron Brown about whether he thinks a new stadium is needed to keep the team in Western New York.

“I’m not sure about that,” said Brown. “I certainly want to see the team stay in this community for the long term and if a new stadium is needed, if a new stadium is required, I think it makes sense for us to accomplish that.”

It’s probably too soon to call this a major shift — even politicians who want to build new stadiums often say they’ll look at renovation, if only so they can reject it later — but taken along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s subtle rhetorical shifts, it looks like Buffalo elected officials are at least realizing that building a whole new stadium for a team that just got a renovated one is going to be a hard sell. We’ll see what they say once they get a look at the clear plastic binder.

Buffalo News still just wants to know where we can put the new stadium, oh boy oh boy

The Buffalo News, never afraid to ask the tough questions about a new Bills stadium, is at it again, wondering where a replacement for the just-now-being-renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium should be built. And who better to ask that question to than a disinterested party, like, say, local developers?

  • “Downtown makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons,” [former Sabres president Larry Quinn] said, noting the growth that’s already gone on there and the availability of a decent amount of existing parking.
  • “Given that we are a relatively small NFL market, that we are next to a large and rapidly growing metropolis like Toronto, that our binational location is one of our key strategic differentiators and that Niagara Falls is an internationally recognized icon – it’s certainly worthy of a close look as a possible new stadium site,” [said developer and regional development organization co-chair Howard Zemsky].
  • “The only logical place is downtown Buffalo,” [downtown's biggest landlord, Carl Paladino,] said, mentioning the Shoreline Apartments along lower Niagara Street and the Commodore Perry projects between South Park Avenue and the Niagara Thruway.

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that several of the developers somewhat chided the News for jumping the gun by assuming that a Bills stadium is necessarily necessary: Quinn said you can’t decide on a stadium until the team has a business plan (which requires an owner who is still breathing), Zemsky echoed his boss Gov. Andrew Cuomo by saying that the current renovations work well and “if we don’t need to change that formula, let’s not” (but if we do, let’s), and hotel developer Rocco Termini warned that stadiums themselves don’t necessarily boost economic activity in the surrounding area (“Show me where it’s worked and prove me wrong”).

The News, hearing this criticism, topped off its article with a sidebar listing six possible sites for a new stadium.

Buffalo op-ed says new Bills owners could threaten selves with moving team

Yesterday’s Buffalo News had an op-ed by an economic development consultant about building a new Bills stadium, and “op-ed by an economic development consultant” should tell you all you need to know about it. But I just want to call attention to it to show how op-eds can make it into the newspaper without making a damn bit of sense. Follow the bouncing logic here:

The Bills’ new owner will likely have to come up with at least $1 billion. The average NFL team is worth $1.17 billion, according to a 2013 Forbes analysis.

Yes, NFL teams are super expensive, because they’re super valuable. Even in Buffalo.

Once a deal is struck and the NFL approves, the new owner will have to deal with the expensive – and politically sensitive – issue of a new stadium.

Okay, “need” is a bit strong, since the Bills’ current stadium is already getting $130 million in taxpayer-funded renovations, but certainly if they want a new stadium they’ll need to deal with the politics of it.

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants more. He told ESPN that without a new stadium, the Bills might leave.

Oh, okay, so if the new Bills owners don’t get a new stadium, then the team might get moved … by the new Bills owners. So they totally have to deal with this, because there’s nothing so awful as spending $1 billion on an NFL team and then having your own self threaten to move the team out from under you.

There is a teeny point here somewhere, which I suppose would go something like “Whoever buys the Bills for $1 billion is going to want to maximize their profits, and the best way to do that might be to move the team to a bigger market, even though market size in the NFL doesn’t matter much and there are no huge markets with NFL stadiums ready to go, and Roger Goodell will stand behind them on any such threat.” But that’s not what this op-ed says at all, which makes you wonder who at the Buffalo News is bothering to vet submissions for making any damn sense. Unless, I suppose, making any damn sense is less important than espousing opinions that don’t anger the powers that be. Nah, couldn’t be that.

Bills stadium gripes: Same as it ever was

Trending Buffalo ran across … well, let’s start with the quotes:

The latest chapter in Buffalo’s dismal epic of sports misfortunes involves the genuine danger that its only major league representative, the much-loved Bills, may skip town in a dispute over a new stadium. In Buffalo that would be tantamount to turning off the water supply and might move the generally law-abiding citizenry to open rebellion…

News editorial recently warned, ‘A community that cannot support major league sport in big-league fashion is relegated to second city status, inevitably.’ But move it must, or Buffalo will find itself forever branded as a city of bush-leaguers, bad losers and intolerable weather. It is likely that Buffalo is none of these things, but the dismal face it presents to the world neatly conceals its virtues. And they will probably remain concealed until a spectacular venture like a domed stadium can be executed.

Okay, a bit overwritten, but otherwise nothing out of the — wait, “only major league representative”? What about the Sabres? When was this written, anyway?

January 20, 1969

Warts, Love And Dreams In Buffalo

After Bills owner Ralph Wilson threatened to move the Bills to Seattle in 1971, the stadium was eventually built, sans dome, and opened in 1973 as Rich Stadium (after local food company Rich Products, in one of sports’ first naming-rights deals); it’s now Ralph Wilson Stadium, after you know who. The entire $22 million cost was covered by Erie County taxpayers. But at least now no one thinks of Buffalo as a city of “bush-leaguers, bad losers and intolerable weather.”

 

Cuomo: I’ll only fund a Bills stadium if it’s so totally worth it

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is drawing lines in the sand about a Buffalo Bills stadium again, saying he’ll only commit public funds if it’s really, really worth it:

“If we’re gonna ask the taxpayers for money then we want to be very clear about the terms and conditions and then the people will have decide at that time. I’ve done everything I can to reduce taxes, reduce state taxes, reduce property taxes so I am very cautious about anything that would cost more money.”

And:

“Is it a stadium for a stadium or is it a stadium as part of a larger economic development complex that could be creating jobs and income?”

And:

One reporter raised the issue of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Cuomo responded “That is a stand-alone stadium and that was the decision made as a stand-alone stadium. You could argue that Yankee Stadium brought development to a neighborhood but there are also stadiums that are done that are part of a larger economic development complex that will actually generate revenue. So they wind up being less expensive in the long run.”

Not to accuse the governor of my state of meaningless blather, but you’ll note that pretty much all of this comes down to “I’ll consider throwing public money at the Bills, but only if I can come up with a good cover story about ‘economic development.’” Cue the clear plastic binder!

Cuomo says Bills stadium should be built with “private money,” except for the public money involved

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now come out and said that if a new Buffalo Bills stadium has to be built, he’d rather it be done with private funds:

“If we had to go to a new stadium, my opening position would be, ‘great. New stadium. Privately financed.’ I agree that the less government money, the better – if we had to go in that direction in the first place,” he said.

That’s a potentially important turnabout from a governor whose most recent action on the Bills front was to appoint a task force to seek ways to find public money for a new stadium, and—

“But if it was essential, I would support it,” he said. “Now, the devil is in the details. Where? How much? It’s not just government money. It would be private money, also.”

Ooooookay, so when Cuomo says “privately financed,” he actually means “not entirely publicly financed.” Which, given that even the most egregious stadium giveaways invariably involve some private money — even if it’s just a matter of the government handing over stadium naming rights to the private owners and letting them sell those to cover their share of the costs — ultimately comes down to “Of course I’m looking out for the public’s interests, don’t you trust me? You know, me, the guy who just gave the Bills $227 million for renovations to their old stadium in exchange for staying put for another six years while negotiating a deal for an entirely new stadium? Have I mentioned I’m thinking of running for president?”

Someone asked Roger Goodell if Bills need a new stadium, because in an infinite universe all answers are possible

Roger Goodell’s main job as NFL commissioner is pretty much to demand new stadiums for his owners’ teams. (Well, that and doing his “I know nothink” routine when asked about football and brain injuries.) So when you see this:

As the Buffalo Bills continue the process of finding a new owner, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell believes the team must have a new stadium to remain viable in its region.

“Yes, I do,” Goodell told reporters Wednesday in New York City. “We said at the time when they entered into a new lease that this is really a short-term solution. We need to find the right long-term solution that’s good for the community and can help the Bills to continue to be successful in western New York.”

You have to wonder: What self-respecting journalist lobbed him that question to which he could answer “Yes, I do”? What did you expect he was going to say, “Nah, they’re fine where they are”?

Anyway, Goodell earned his paycheck for the week by keeping the Bills’ demand for a new stadium on the front pages. Though ESPN did mention that the Bills can’t threaten to move until 2020 regardless, thanks to the lease extension they signed in exchange for $227 million in state-funded renovations to their old stadium, so maybe he should really have gone on a bit more, to fill all available column inches.

Bills, Cuomo target July for team sale, stadium subsidy plan

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Bills stadium task force, or about the Bills’ founding owner being dead and the team needing a new one, but according to the Associated Press, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening behind the scenes:

The Buffalo Bills could identify a new owner within three months, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stepping up the state’s efforts to secure the franchise’s long-term future in the region…

The updated timetable has led Cuomo to speed up the state’s involvement in protecting its interests in preventing the Bills from relocating. The state intends to hire a consulting firm over the next week to produce a report within three months that would be issued to prospective owners. The report would identify potential stadium sites and outline public financing options that would be made available…

The working group is expected to take six months or longer before making its recommendations, well after the team could be sold.

That’s all a bit vague, but suffice to say that the Bills still want stadium money on top of the $227 million for renovations they got last year, and Gov. Cuomo still wants to give it to them. And the AP and other news outlets are going to sit and report on the timetable, because investigating potential stadium sites, public financing options, and which of either of these might be good ideas before the state and Bills decide what they want would be jumping the gun, right? Good newspapers only report on the news after newsmakers have told them what it is, not when it’s just lying around with nobody important commenting on it.

NY mulls building Niagara Falls stadium for Bills owner who doesn’t exist yet

New York state, as you may recall, recently gave $200 million to the Buffalo Bills for stadium renovations to keep them in town, then topped it off by creating a task force to plan how to build a whole new stadium to keep them in town even longer. And that task force is now considering keeping them in town by moving them to Niagara Falls:

Several officials told The Associated Press that a newly formed Bills stadium task force of public and private leaders seeking to bolster the team’s long-term viability is considering sites that would put it closer to the team’s burgeoning Ontario fan base.

“We’re looking at Niagara County,” Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy told the AP this week. “We’re open to looking at a number of venues.”

It makes sense at least to look, I guess: The Bills say about 18% of their season-ticket base comes from Canada (and presumably they’d like to increase that, since there are lot more people on the Ontario side of the border than in western New York), and Niagara County would split the driving distance for those folks. The bigger question is why New York is spending so much time and energy — and eventually money, since there’s almost no way the Bills are going to finance this project themselves — trying to placate the team’s as-yet-undetermined next owner (founding owner Ralph Wilson died last month) when they just got them to agree to a lease extension that—

The Bills are essentially locked into playing at their current home through the 2019 season, because the lease features a $400 million penalty in the event the team broke it. In 2020, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to opt out of the lease for about $28 million.

Really, Gov. Andrew Cuomo? There really needs to be some way of suing elected officials for malpractice in lease negotiations.

It’s Opening Day, when everyone’s stadium dreams start with a 0-0 record

It’s Opening Day for baseball! I’m headed out to see the New York Mets open their season in a couple of hours (the one chance each year for a Mets fan to see their team without a losing record), but what else is going on around the baseball nation?