The Buffalo Bills and New York State may soon have an agreement on the next home of the team. That according to Governor Kathy Hochul, who spoke publicly on the matter Monday morning. In her comments she gave a timeline that is very near and a location. It sounds like everything is pretty darn close.
“We are very intently focused on keeping the Bills here,” said Hochul, answering a reporter’s question during an unrelated stop in Warsaw. “If Orchard Park’s [the team’s] first choice – their only choice, it’s Orchard Park – we’ll make it all happen. So we’re very excited about announcing a deal hopefully in the near future.”
That would seem to quiet the few remaining voices advocating for a downtown Buffalo stadium. The Buffalo Common Council met a month ago to hear from the public and make the case for a downtown stadium, but based on the timeline Hochul provided, that ship had long sailed.
The Bills have made it known they desire an open-air stadium in Orchard Park, where the cost of building would be much cheaper. The land adjacent to the current stadium is already owned by Erie County, shovel-ready, and they wouldn’t have to relocate any residents. The existing infrastructure is just a few football fields down the road. All of that would significantly reduce the cost of a new stadium site.
In addition to the location, both sides now believe an agreement can be in place by the end of the calendar year—less than two weeks away. That would allow Hochul to include it in her budget requests for New York State and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to likewise get the Legislature on board. If an agreement in principle is reached by the end of December, the finishing touches could still be ironed out until March 31, New York’s budget deadline.
“So I also have a larger window if we need more time. So it’s not a hard deadline,” Hochul said regarding the end of 2021. “But my desire is, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, let’s lock this down. Let’s get it done.”
Getting the deal done on this budget cycle would be beneficial for the Bills and Hochul.
The current lease expires in July of 2023, so the 2022 season is the final year of the current deal. Hochul is running for re-election in the fall of 2022 for her first elected term following her elevation from Lieutenant Governor in the wake of the Andrew Cuomo sexual misconduct scandal. She could lose a primary to a downstate challenger, though with Attorney General Leticia James backing out, her path is clearer. A governor from Western New York hasn’t been elected in more than a century. Having to start negotiations with a new Governor-elect could spell disaster for that team with an expiring lease, backing them into a corner and forcing a relocation.
A swift agreement like this could open up the possibility that a new $1.4 billion stadium could be ready in time for the 2026 season. A bridge agreement would still need to be negotiated for the 2023, 2024, and 2025 seasons. The Bills have said they are not open to an extension of the current lease without the long-term new stadium plan in place. With a long-term home, the Bills could be locked into Western New York for another generation.