Buffalo Bills fans breathed a collective sigh of relief and some were even celebrating as news spread Friday that the team had signed a 10-year lease to stay at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Andrew Rudnick, the retiring president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Partnership, called the deal in a statement “a testament to the teamwork of Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, County Executive [Mark] Poloncarz and the Bills ownership.”
He said the new agreement “smartly focuses on the long-term sustainability of the Bills right here in Buffalo Niagara.”
Ron Zoeller, who was part of the Business Backs the Bills effort that helped keep the team in Western New York in 1998, gave a more measured response to The Buffalo News.
“It’s better than not having an agreement,” he said.
But, he said, he believes “we’re still forestalling the inevitable,” calling the agreement “temporary good news.”
Zoeller was glad to hear that the state and county managed to negotiate a hefty $400 million penalty if the team chooses to leave during the 10-year period, except during the seventh year, when it would be just $29 million.
“I give the state and county credit for negotiating that,” he said.
Dan DeMarco, owner of the Big Tree Inn next to the stadium in Orchard Park, was pleased to hear his neighbors will be staying.
“At least they’re here for 10 years, anyway,” he said. “Now all they’ve got to do is get a winning product on the field. ... I figured they’d get it done.”
Tom Nola of the Buffalo Bills Backers Club couldn’t have been happier.
“I love it! I love it!” said Nola, a season-ticket holder since the Bills’ days at the old Rock Pile. “This town would be a ghost town without them.”
He said he believes the Bills will stay for the full 10 years of the lease, even with the seventh year caveat that would allow the team to leave with a comparatively minimal penalty.
Not everyone was pleased.
Former Erie County Legislator Gregory B. Olma, who voted against the last stadium deal in 1998, speculated that the seventh-year clause could mean the Bills think that “would be an appropriate amount of time to transition.”
WGR Radio sports personality Mike Schopp, who has been critical in the past of spending taxpayer money on the stadium, said the deal “will go a long way to relaxing a fan base that has been nervous about the Bills’ future for years.” But, he said, “it doesn’t go all the way.”
Fans have been left in the dark about a succession plan for when Wilson, 94, dies.
“So no matter what this feels like, it’s still taxpayers from a hurting region handing 95 million dollars to an NFL team worth almost 10 times that,” Schopp wrote.