ALBANY – Assembly Democrats have dropped their push for more protections to ensure the Buffalo Bills do not leave Western New York, saying the deal cut last December between the team and the state appears to have enough protections to keep the team from fleeing.
“I think we’ll be OK without it,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said in an interview Tuesday at the Capitol.
The Assembly last week approved a one-house budget measure that included additional penalties if the Bills break the terms of a 10-year lease deal cut by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last December. The deal calls for more than $54 million in stadium renovation financing by the state, which is to be approved when lawmakers vote on a new 2013 budget sometime this week.
But after talks with Cuomo and other officials, Silver said, “We think there’s enough guarantees that they’ll stay.”
The final legal documents to support a 10-year Ralph Wilson Stadium lease agreement announced in December were completed Tuesday morning and delivered to the Erie County Legislature and the state agencies involved in the deal.
Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said the governor’s office provided assurances to the Buffalo Bills and the National Football League that there were no changes to the penalties agreed to in an earlier “memorandum of understanding” that set the terms of the lease deal.
“The league was concerned about it,” Tobe said of the Assembly’s proposal. “The governor’s office has provided an assurance, and there have been direct conversations at the highest levels of state government.”
The Assembly proposed a “clawback” to recoup the entire cost of renovating the stadium if the Bills left in the first seven years of the contract.“It’s gone,” Tobe said of the Assembly’s proposal to add new lease penalties in the state budget. “That will not be in the budget.”
The deal struck by the team, the state and Erie County calls for $130 million to be spent renovating the football stadium. The Bills will pay $35 million, the state $54 million and the county $41 million. Under the current memorandum of understanding, if the team leaves before the end of the 10-year agreement, the Bills must pay a $400 million penalty to the state and the county. But the agreement has a one-time, less costly escape clause: The team would have to pay only $29 million if it moves to another city within the seventh year.
The plan approved by the Assembly last week called for keeping the terms of the memorandum of understanding but added the stronger clawback language to give greater protections for the state to get back the $54 million if the team leaves early, plus another $6 million the state is expected to approve in this year’s budget, and future years, that includes some operating assistance from Albany for the team.
News Staff Reporter Denise Jewell Gee contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org