Buffalo Bills Stadium Lease Talks Stall With State, County

Matt Warren, Buffalo Rumblings

The Buffalo Bills and the governments of Erie County and New York State are at a standstill. They haven't sat down for negotiations since June, forcing a likely one-year lease extension to reset the clock on a long-term deal.

Negotiations between the Buffalo Bills, Erie County, and New York State regarding a new multi-year lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium have stalled, per the Buffalo News. In a report released Wednesday morning, the resulting delay cost the team an opportunity to sign a multi-year lease prior to the expiration of the current deal, and unprecedented measures could be taken to keep the Bills in suburban Buffalo in 2013.

"We're well aware the negotiations are a process," Bills CEO Russ Brandon told the News on Tuesday. "We also knew it would take time. They wouldn’t be completed overnight. But we are in a stalled holding pattern. We haven't met for some time."

That "some time," according to the News, was in June 29 - about a month prior to Bills training camp, which was the original goal for getting a deal done. The initial target was pushed back to the end of the 2012 calendar year, but an agreement looks unlikely now, and it would still have to be approved at the league level.

"The league has a fall meeting scheduled for Oct. 16 and 17 in Chicago at which G-4 funding for Buffalo could get approved," wrote Mark Gaughan, one of the authors of the report. "But to get on the agenda for that meeting, the Bills would need to present a plan to various league committees - including the NFL Stadium Committee - when those panels meet next week, Sept. 19 and 20, in New York City."

Million-dollar deals often occur at the last minute, but the problem appears to be getting the parties talking. Erie County officials pointed fingers away from themselves without saying whose fault it was.

"There were a number of meetings that were scheduled that unfortunately could not be held due to conflicts of individuals attending," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "There's no meeting that was canceled because either I or a member of my staff was unavailable."

The last part of that quote would seem to indicate that Erie County is passing the buck to another party, but Brandon also denied that the Bills were to blame.

"We really don't know why at this point," Brandon said. "We've been working day and night here on all of the preparation to have meaningful conversations that we have not had in over two months."

While New York State didn't say anything meaningful in the story about delays, they did say they have taken steps to ensure movement on the lease, saying they have sent their lawyer to Buffalo recently.

"[Irwin] Raij, a partner with the law firm Foley & Lardner with extensive experience in stadium redevelopment, came to town during the week of Aug. 12 and met with county officials," says the report. "He also toured Ralph Wilson Stadium and met with Bills representatives."

The next league meeting after October is in mid-March, too late for the capital improvements to be done for the 2013 season. Due to the complexity of such an agreement, the Bills and Erie County have agreed in principle upon a one-year extension through the 2013 NFL season.

"We're at a stage now where we're going to have to restart the process and set a new calendar of goals and objectives [for the renovations]," Brandon said earlier Wednesday before the completed deal was announced. "Because of that, an interim agreement on a one-year basis may be necessary."

"They'd have to fast-track some discussions, which we are looking forward to doing," Brandon continued. "We have been very transparent, very open, and we have been ready, willing and able to meet anytime and anywhere, and the county and state both are very aware of that. When our phone rings again, we're happy to meet and set the new calendar."

It's something we'll continue to monitor, but it doesn't appear more than a band-aid solution right now.

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