New advisory group mulls long-term stadium answer for Bills in Buffalo: a ‘Taj Mahal’ or ‘substantial’ Ralph reno

Perhaps the next owner of the Buffalo Bills indeed will relocate the franchise to Toronto or Los Angeles next decade.

But after Tuesday, Buffalo has one thing those cities haven’t got: an advisory panel comprising Bills executives, prominent area business leaders and both local and state political heavyweights, all on the same page trying to conjure a long-term stadium solution for the NFL team in the Queen City.

As everyone in NFL circles wonders about the fate of the Bills franchise following the death last week of owner Ralph Wilson, this officially dubbed “New Stadium Working Group” met for the first time Tuesday afternoon at Bills headquarters in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Can 41-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium — after its $130-million facelift this year — undergo a “substantial” renovation again some time next decade to viably serve the team and its famously hardcore fans for decades to come?

Or is the long-term answer instead a new “Taj Mahal,” a term Wilson himself once unflatteringly used to denounce modern, massive, bells-and-whistles adorned NFL stadiums? And if this option, where in Erie County should it be built?

Don’t hold your breath for answers.

Mark C. Poloncarz is the top elected official in Erie County, where Buffalo is located and which owns Ralph Wilson Stadium and leases it to the Bills. In a phone interview after Tuesday’s meeting, he urged patience.

“We know that this is not going to be a short process,” the County Executive said. “This could take a couple of years. We don’t want to jump ahead of ourselves. We want to make certain that the recommendations that we make are based on expert information.”

The advisory group merely will make recommendations to the three primary financial stakeholders in the future of the Bills in Buffalo — the team, the county and the state. (For video of the impromptu post-meeting news conference, click here.)

“There are a lot of people assuming, ‘Oh, this means there’s going to be a new stadium built,’ and as we’ve all said for some time now, no, that’s not necessarily the answer,” Poloncarz said.

“One of the things that we’ll be looking at is, Can you continue to use the current facility if updated and keep it viable? So we’re going to be looking at all of that. I don’t anticipate even that will be a short process.”

Poloncarz on Tuesday was named one of three co-chairs of the 20-person advisory group. Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon and Robert Duffy, Lt. Gov. of the State of New York, were the others.

The group’s formation has nothing to do with the death of Wilson, nor does even the timing of Tuesday’s first meeting.

A clause in the club’s 10-year lease extension at Ralph Wilson Stadium — signed early last year — called for the group’s formation within 30 days of substantial completion of stadium renovations, “or at such earlier time” as Erie County, the State and the Bills agreed.

Renovations at the Ralph are now 45% complete.

“People are assuming that we were rushing to hold this meeting because of Mr. Wilson’s passing,” Poloncarz said, “but we’ve had communications for weeks now on when this was going to be done.”

With the State of New York paying for the largest share of the current stadium renovations — $60 million, compared to $40 million from Erie County and $30 million from the Bills — it earned as many seats on the advisory group as the county and the team.

Early last month New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo named five members to his sub-committee, including Lt. Gov. Duffy and the mayors of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Cuomo named a sixth member on Monday, and has the right to name a seventh.

Poloncarz is one of seven members on Erie County’s sub-committee, which includes two other county officials plus four business leaders.

Bills sub-committee members include Brandon, two other team executives (CFO Jeff Littman and Mary Owen, executive VP of strategic planning), three business leaders and, perhaps most importantly, influential U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

What happened at Tuesday’s first meeting?

“I’m not going to go into great detail,” Poloncarz said. “Sixteen of the 20 members were in attendance. It was a very productive meeting.

“There were a number of things we discussed. Most of that is private.”

The state, the county and the current leadership of the Bills all agree on the advisory group’s one and only goal.

“It’s to put in place what’s necessary to keep the Buffalo Bills here — not just for 10 years, but for 50 years and beyond,” Poloncarz said.

Whoever emerges as the new owner of the Bills, however, will have the biggest say in that.

As I reported last week, despite continuing reports that the team can relocate before 2020 by merely paying a $400-million penalty, the Bills are in fact effectively locked into remaining in Buffalo through the 2019 season. Before the 2020 season the team can pay a one-time $28.4-million opt-out fee to relocate, but otherwise would be locked in again until the end of the 2022 season.

Neither Toronto nor Los Angeles — the two North American destinations seen as the likeliest relocation destinations — nor even London, England, has a plan in place to build a permanent NFL-compliant stadium.

 

 

Group’s official task, per lease:

What is the Buffalo advisory group specifically charged with doing, per the 2013 stadium lease? Here is clause 10.9 in its entirety, legalese and all:

10.9 New Stadium Working Group. The purpose of the New Stadium Working Group shall be to explore, investigate, design, plan, permit, obtain approvals for, develop, perform studies related to, and perform due diligence and such other activities as the New Stadium Working Group deems to be necessary and/or desirable related to (i) the development and construction of a new stadium either on the Land or on another location in Erie County, or (ii) a substantial renovation of the Stadium. The members of the New Stadium Working Group shall commence meeting and performing the responsibilities of the New Stadium Working Group within thirty (30) days after Substantial Completion of the Project, as defined in the 2013 Construction Coordinating Agreement, or such earlier time as the County, the ECSC (Erie County Stadium Corporation), and the Bills may mutually agree. Any and all reports, memoranda and other information prepared by or on behalf of the New Stadium Working Group shall be provided simultaneously to the County, the ECSC, and the Bills within five (5) Business Days after the preparation or receipt of the same by the New Stadium Working Group. The New Stadium Working Group shall have the right to recommend to the ECSC, the County and the Bills disbursements from the New Stadium Fund to further the New Stadium Working Group’s mission and objectives. Provided that the ECSC and the County approve any such disbursement in writing, the ECSC shall make such disbursement in accordance with the New Stadium Working Group’s recommendations. All contracts and other agreements to be entered into by New Stadium Working Group, if any, shall require the prior written approval of the County and the ECSC.

 

All 20 advisory-group members

Here are the 20 members of the “New Stadium Working Group,” listed on their sub-committees:

 

The seven members on the Bills sub-committee:

*    Russell H. Brandon, Bills President and Chief Executive Officer (co-chair)

*    Louis P. Ciminelli, Chairman LPCiminelli, Inc.

*    Christopher H. Koch, CEO of New Era Cap Co., Inc.

*    Jordan Levy, Managing Partner of SoftBank Capital

*    Jeffrey C. Littmann, Bills Chief Financial Officer

*    Mary Owen, Bills Executive Vice President Strategic Planning

*    Charles E. Schumer, United States Senator

 

The seven members on the Erie County sub-committee:

*    Mark C. Poloncarz, County Executive, Erie County (co-chair)

*    Richard Tobe, Deputy County Executive, Erie County

*    Maria R. Whyte, Commissioner of Environment and Planning, Erie County

*    Kathleen Hochul, Vice President, M&T Bank Corporation

*    Michael Joseph, President, Clover Management, Inc.

*    Alphonso O’Neil-White, Retired President & CDO of HealthNow New York Inc.

*    Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, President, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

 

The six members on the State of New York sub-committee:

*    Robert Duffy, Lt. Gov. (co-chair)

*    Byron W. Brown, Buffalo Mayor

*    Paul Dyster, Niagara Falls Mayor

*    Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO

*    Kenneth Adams, Empire State Development President

*    Gary L. Ginsberg, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications for Time Warner (Buffalo native)

One thought on “New advisory group mulls long-term stadium answer for Bills in Buffalo: a ‘Taj Mahal’ or ‘substantial’ Ralph reno

  1. Don Thompson

    Gentleman, we knew Mr. Wilson was going be leaving sometime in our near future. The Reno’s to RWS are going to be great. I feel pretty good about the “Bills” future in Buffalo. But, I feel that a dome, or retractable roof, is what is needed. Two options, build a roof over the “Ralph” as it sits now, or build a new doomed stadium closer to the Canadian border. You bring even more Canadian fans down, and the new stadium could bring in business all year long. If you want to open it for cold games do so, but, you could close it for bitter cold weather, lightning, heavy snow, and rain storms. This is what I would want to protect the fans, and keep them in their seats, for the whole season. You could fill it for every game, and the Wilson family would not have to buy seats, to air a game on tv. It is just common sense to me, a life long fan from Canada.

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