The Buffalo Bills' lease of Ralph Wilson Stadium expires on July 31, 2013. With just a year left on the deal, the Bills have been speaking with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz about extending it - and yesterday, Poloncarz spoke with WGRZ in Buffalo to share his timeline for the deal.
"I feel very confident that a lease is going to get done," Poloncarz told Scott Brown. "My goal is to get it done by the beginning of training camp (this summer) and we're going to try and get the longest lease we possibly can."
Heading into the season with a new lease would make Bills fans breathe a little easier. Both sides are looking for a deal from 10 to 15 years. The current lease is expiring after 15 years. Last September, Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. expressed his desire to keep the team in Buffalo and make modest-but-not-flashy improvements to the stadium at taxpayer expense.
"I'm willing to sign a lease that will keep the team there and keep the team competitive," Wilson said in a phone interview with the Buffalo News last year. "We're not looking to have a palace, just a football stadium."
"Some of these places, to me, it's goofy," Wilson continued. "They have all these fancy restaurants inside. People come to the football game to see the game, not to have a delicious dinner. ... We want just enough money to stay competitive."
Poloncarz sees Wilson's comments as a good sign for the negotiations. The two top men have not spoken, but the Executive is in contact with Bills CEO Russ Brandon.
"I think [Mr. Wilson]'s gone out publicly and said he doesn't need a new stadium, wants to keep the team here in Buffalo," Poloncarz said. "I think that's very encouraging. We're not all going to be on this planet forever so I've got to ensure that this team is going to be here for the long term, generations to come, and I'm glad to see that Mr. Wilson has that same commitment as well."
The Bills are expected to release the results of a stadium study soon, which would determine how much municipal funding the team would be looking for to complete repairs to the facility. Team sources told the Buffalo News in September that much of the work would be structural and might not be obvious on the exterior, but are necessary. They would also like to move the press box and convert the old space into suites.
"Our stadium is 40 years old," Wilson said in September. "We've had patchwork jobs. We use the money the state pays us and the county to keep the stadium in one piece. We're going to have to have some money now for improvements... I'm not talking about some billion-dollar palace. We're going to have to have some money to improve the stadium for the fans. There are some spots that are crumbling and need to be fixed."
With free agency set to open and the 2012 NFL Draft right behind it, don't expect to hear anything more on this topic until later this spring and into the summer.