ALBANY – The Buffalo Bills are staying.
State, county and team negotiators have struck a final deal on a 10-year lease with a hefty relocation penalty if the Bills leave – to keep the Bills from delivering an economic and psychological blow to Western New York by shipping out to another city.
The deal was revealed this morning on BuffaloNews.com and formally announced at a late-morning news conference at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“This is an exciting agreement,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said of the deal that he described as a seven-year arrangement because of the lesser exit fee the team would pay if it leaves after seven years.
The terms call for a $400 million penalty if the team leaves Buffalo before 2023 with the exception that, after the seventh year, the team would pay only $29 million. After that year, the penalty would go back to $400 million.
“The state pays the majority of the funds in the agreement, and I'm proud of that … It's an investment in Western New York and I'm proud to make the investment,” Cuomo told the group via phone from New York. The governor tried to fly to Buffalo for the event but his state plane was kept on the ground because of weather.
A total of $130 million will be spent on a range of renovations at the aging stadium. Of that, the Bills will kick in $35 million, which is different from past deals with the state that included no team contribution. The state and county will share the remaining $95 million renovation costs – with $54 million coming from the state and $41 million from the county.
The stadium renovations will include installing new technological advances “to improve the overall fan experience,'' including new video display boards on the facility's east end, as well as a new west end plaza, along with a new team store and improved gate entrance and concession areas.
Cuomo said the sides also will explore building a new stadium in the future “if that is financially feasible and intelligent from a development point of view.”
“This is another shining example of Mr. [Ralph] Wilson's loyalty, his commitment, to Western New York, and our unwavering belief that this franchise can succeed long-term in this region,” added Russ Brandon's the team's chief executive officer.
County officials said the deal will ensure the team's long-term presence in the region. “The Bills are not only the heart and soul” of the region, said County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “They are a key economic driver.”
Asked what assurances the region has the team will stay long term, Brandon said, “The assurance is that we're standing here right now.'' He said the team will be in Buffalo for “many decades to come. Guaranteed.”
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, a former mayor of Rochester and lifelong Bills fan who was among the key negotiators in the deal, said, “The Buffalo Bills never wanted to leave.”
Officials said the team could have left last year and paid only a $2 million penalty.
Duffy also defended the use of public dollars for a professional football team, and said the team's departure would have cost the region money in lost tax revenues and the pride of having the only New York-state based pro football team.
“The Bills are a big fabric of Western New York,” Duffy said of any criticism the deal will get for use of public funds.
Brandon said the focus now is on renovating the existing stadium, but that the team and governments will look at the possibility of a new stadium in the next decade. Poloncarz said the plans call for spending part of government proceeds under the deal near the end of the 10-year term for possible design and other work on a new stadium.
The deal comes after months of secret meetings between the sides over what officials have described as complex terms. Wilson has made past commitments to stay in Buffalo but is getting old and has had health problems in the past year or so.
The terms of the deal last for 10 years.
The $400 million penalty is more than the state has provided the team in incentives to remain going back to 1998 during the administration of Gov. George E. Pataki, who also cut his own agreement to keep the team from leaving.
Word of the deal comes just days after The Buffalo News reported “significant” talks were held this past week between the state, county and team negotiators. Gone also, Poloncarz told The News earlier this week, was talk of maybe cutting a one-year deal to push off the complicated matters until next year.
At least with Bills fans, the deal will give Cuomo a major political victory in Western New York, which he did not carry in his first gubernatorial campaign two years ago. Cuomo said in an interview earlier this fall that keeping the team in Buffalo was a top priority for his administration, and he personally became involved in the negotiations on and off in recent months.