The Buffalo Bills and Erie County are not likely to hammer out the main terms of a new lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium before training camp begins next week, as they had hoped when the talks began earlier this year, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said Tuesday.
“We’ve accomplished a lot. Every party knows where the other one stands,” Poloncarz said. “Now it’s just that final time where you sort of butt heads with each other until you reach an agreement. So I feel confident we’re going to get an agreement done by the end of the year.”
Poloncarz and Bills leadership started formal talks in April in hope of getting the framework of a deal set out in a “memorandum of understanding” by the start of training camp July 26. That informal deadline isn’t likely to be met, the county executive said, but the talks are progressing.
“The memorandum might not get done by training camp, but, trust us, we’re working hard to get an agreement done,” Poloncarz said.
The county executive, who was asked about the lease negotiations as he fielded questions from reporters about the county’s financial situation, said the stadium lease is just one of a long list of issues that could affect future budgets.
“You’ve got to look at it all,” Poloncarz said. “I feel confident, though, that the Bills understand the county’s financial situation, and, working with New York State and the Bills, we’re going to get a deal done that’s fair to all.”
Neither Poloncarz nor the Bills will say exactly what the team is seeking in public support, but he has confirmed that the team has asked for renovations of the county-owned stadium that would cost between $200 million to $220 million. The county executive has said he wants a lease that would tie the Bills to the region “for many years to come.”
The current lease expires July 31, 2013.
The lease negotiations are progressing as Poloncarz has become more vocal about concerns that unbudgeted expenses and the potential for stagnant revenue sources could force the county to dip into its reserve fund and make budgeting for 2013 difficult.
Asked how those issues could affect the potential for a county contribution to a lease-renewal deal, Poloncarz pointed to the framework of the existing lease in which the county picked up operating, game day and annual stadium maintenance expenses, but the state paid for all of the $63 million stadium renovation that started in 1998. In addition, the state provided a $3 million annual “working capital” grant to the Bills under that agreement.
“I hope that the state will offer a fair package that is acceptable to all,” Poloncarz said. “We’re going to play a role. We’re certainly going to be financing a portion of the costs for Ralph Wilson Stadium in the future, but we cannot, in Erie County, afford to do it all. The state picked up all of the construction costs last time.”
The county currently budgets about $7 million a year for game day expenses and annual upgrades at the stadium under the existing lease agreement.
Poloncarz noted that other expenses – including Medicaid costs the county pays for Erie County Medical Center and the cost of legal settlements that require the county to improve its jails – could have an even greater impact on the county’s budget.
“There are other aspects of county government that I have to make sure move forward, as well,” Poloncarz said. “We can’t shut down social services. We can’t shut down senior services. The Bills are just one consideration of the budget – an important one – but they’re one consideration in a budget that provides services across the entire community.”