Bills stadium group meets with sense of urgency
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Bills president Russ Brandon can appreciate how eight years is not much time to establish a plan to secure the franchise’s long-term future in Buffalo.
“That’s the reason, we’re standing here today,” Brandon said Tuesday, after a newly formed stadium search committee met for the first time. “This will be a long process. We have a lot of work that needs to be done. But I know our group is up for the task.”
Called the “New Stadium Work Group,” it is a committee made up public and private leaders and Bills executives. They will be responsible for making recommendations on whether a new stadium or renovations to the team’s current home best fit the franchise’s needs to remain viable in Buffalo once the Bills lease expires in 2022.
The group met with a raised sense of urgency in establishing a plan, because the team’s future has been left uncertain following the death of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson last week. The franchise is expected to be placed into a trust before being sold within a few years, opening the possibility of the Bills being relocated.
The Bills are essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through 2019, under terms of a 10-year lease agreement they reached with state and county governments in December 2012. The deal features a $400 million penalty the Bills would have to pay in the event a court ruled in favor of the team breaking the lease and relocating.
In 2020, however, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to opt out of the lease for about $28 million.
“I don’t think anybody here could really speak to what the future holds right now,” Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said. “But there is a sense of urgency with this group. We spoke about that. I think everybody understands the seriousness of the process.”
The group was formed as a result of the lease agreement, and is currently made up of 20 of out of a potential 21 members — including Sen. Charles Schumer, who was not in attendance Tuesday. Brandon, Duffy and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz will serve as co-chairmen.
On Tuesday, members were updated on the team’s lease and the status current renovations being done at the stadium.
Poloncarz called it premature to begin discussing what the best stadium option might be.
“I don’t want people to think we were sitting in here and made the determination, ‘Yes, there’s going to be a new stadium.’ That’s not the case,” he said. “What we’re doing is putting in place the pieces to make those determinations. Anything else would be pure speculation.”
Though no definitive timetable has been set, the group is expected to have a framework of ideas in place before the team is sold.
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