Author: Ryan Miller
“I’m committed to making sure they stay here, but it has to be something that is smart for the taxpayers, as well.”
Those were the words of Governor Kathy Hochul in a recent interview with the Buffalo News regarding the ongoing Buffalo Bills new stadium negotiations.
Hochul is wise to worry about the return on taxpayer investment for a project that will commit an unprecedented amount of State and County tax dollars (estimated at $1 billion) to build a football stadium for billionaires that could fund it on their own dime several times over. She is not alone.
Recently Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin released a proposal for a community benefit agreement (CBA), which seeks to ensure that people other than Terry and Kim Pegula benefit from this project. The CBA she proposed, while well-intentioned, falls far short of ensuring the degree of benefit that Western New Yorkers deserve for their investment by omitting any stipulation on the stadium’s location.
Decisions regarding location and funding levels are currently being negotiated behind closed doors by the Pegulas, County Executive Poloncarz, and Governor Hochul. “Their decision” regarding the project is being funded by taxpayer dollars. It is fundamental to the role of a public servant to use our funds in a manner that is both responsible and visionary. A stadium in Orchard Park is neither.
Jobs created at a new stadium in Orchard Park, for example, can only employ Western New Yorkers for a dozen or so weekends per year and require a personal vehicle. The South Park site is centrally located in relation to Western New York’s hiring pool and is infinitely more accessible by public transportation. Furthermore, a stadium at the South Park site would also lead to ancillary spin-off development in the vicinity in the form of hotels, restaurants, other local businesses, and possibly a convention center. This would create new jobs in industries that could employ people 365 days per year, including those that live in the neighborhoods that border the South Park site. Don’t just take our word for it. Here is a quote from the Pegulas’ own study.
“With an active downtown real estate development market and ongoing mixed-used development at nearby Canalside, Larkinville, and Cobblestone Districts, the stadium site would both benefit from and contribute to furthering Buffalo’s focus on creating a vibrant, connected downtown…It would also add a powerful entertainment and economic development anchor to downtown’s emerging renaissance…creating strong anchors for a growing entertainment and mixed-use district that few cities can claim.”
Source: New Stadium PUP Appendix. Page 9. October 2019. Pegula Sports Entertainment CAAICON/Populous Study
The Pegulas’ studies ranked the South Park site as the best overall location for building a new stadium. Additionally, they awarded the South Park site with the highest possible scores for revenue generation and economic impact, while Orchard Park received the lowest possible scores in those areas.
Why are the Pegulas ignoring the advice of their own research? Our guess is simply money. Their studies estimated a stadium at the South Park site to cost $400 million more and take two years longer to complete than Orchard Park. It is cheaper overall, there are less obstacles that need to be worked out, and they can move in and start profiting two years sooner than if they built in the City of Buffalo.
If the Pegulas’ reasoning is in fact financial in nature, we cannot blame them. They have been good to Western New York since coming here, but ultimately, they are business owners. They have no obligation to worry about the future of this region or the return on investment for taxpayers, but our elected officials do. It is fundamental to the role of a public servant to prioritize the interest of the people and the region’s greater good, which in this instance supports building the new stadium in the City of Buffalo.
The Pegulas’ greatest leverage in negotiations is being able to threaten to relocate the team out of Western New York, but the NFL’s franchise relocation fee could make doing so cost prohibitive, especially if a generous offer in terms of taxpayer funding was on the table to both stay in Western New York and build the stadium in the City of Buffalo.
For example, imagine if Governor Hochul and County Executive Poloncarz offered to cover 100% of the cost of a new stadium with taxpayer money, but only if it was built in the City of Buffalo. They could still offer the Pegulas public funding for Orchard Park to prevent the Bills from leaving entirely, but considerably less, say only 40% of the total cost. This is only fair considering the Pegulas’ own studies indicate the best option for the taxpayers funding the project is to build in the city.
Choosing the South Park site in that deal would clearly be smart for the Pegulas, but would it be “smart” for us taxpayers? Absolutely. Especially when you consider the proposed alternative of Orchard Park contributes nearly $1 billion of our money to an isolated suburban stadium that offers us zero tangible benefits aside from keeping the Bills in Western New York.
Governor Hochul and Executive Poloncarz are likely worried about the public perception of offering even close to 100% public funding to billionaires. Our job is to reassure them to focus on doing what is “smart” for taxpayers. The only “smart” option, and the only option that can truly offer community benefit, is a stadium built in the City of Buffalo.
The additional cost of building the stadium in Buffalo would certainly pay for itself considering the additional revenue generation inherent to the South Park site, which the Pegulas’ own study identified.
We are again at a watershed moment in Buffalo’s history. The time currently is ripe for progress, change, and growth. Let’s not look back in thirty years after watching more and more cities pass us by and wonder what could have been? A Bills stadium built in Buffalo along with the associated expansion in public transportation and infrastructure improvements that would come with it, has the power to transform our city back to its former turn of the 20th century glory by promoting economic growth, social progress, and improved quality of life for all Western New Yorkers for generations to come.
Time is of the essence. We need to let Governor Hochul and County Executive Poloncarz know right now that we want them to fight for the only “smart” option. First, TEXT the phrase “Go Buffalo” to the phone number “50409” to have a letter sent to Governor Hochul on your behalf. Next, go to our website to learn more about the community benefits of a stadium in the City of Buffalo and to SIGN the petition to County Executive Poloncarz. Finally, SHARE this with as many people possible.
Lead image: Conceptual rendering by BMS Design Studio