NIAGARA FALLS – The Democrats in the Niagara County Legislature want to go on the record in support of moving the Buffalo Bills to Niagara Falls.
Legislator Jason A. Zona, one of three Democrats in the 15-member Legislature, on Wednesday released a measure he and his colleagues, Dennis F. Virtuoso and Owen T. Steed, plan to introduce when the Legislature next meets April 16, placing the county on record in support of construction of a new stadium for the Bills in downtown Niagara Falls once the Bills’ new lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium runs out.
All three lawmakers are from Niagara Falls.
There was no reaction from the Bills, whose main spokesman, Scott Berchtold, is on vacation. But Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster reacted cautiously.
“I would do anything I was asked to do by the Bills to help them stay in Western New York,” Dyster said. “I don’t want to do anything that would make it look like I was fishing in troubled waters.”
The new lease the Bills agreed to on the Orchard Park stadium is for 10 years, but there is a loophole that allows the Bills to move by paying a $29 million penalty in the seventh year of the deal. In all other years, the relocation penalty would be $400 million.
Zona said the theory behind the Bills-to-Niagara Falls idea goes like this:
Niagara Falls Redevelopment controls 142 acres of vacant land in downtown Niagara Falls. Its local head, Roger Trevino, is the former agent of Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who has been rumored to be interested in being part of an ownership group that might try to purchase the Bills and keep them here after the death of Ralph Wilson Jr., the team’s 94-year-old owner.
Kelly fired up the talk of a Niagara Falls stadium by the Bills at a rally before the first preseason game in the Bills’ Toronto series in August 2008. Kelly said, “I think in the near future, we have to build a stadium closer [to Toronto], maybe in Niagara Falls.”
And in 2010, Kelly said he was involved with “major businesspeople” who would try to keep the team in Western New York after Wilson’s death. Wilson had long said he would never sell the team, but his heirs likely would. Niagara Falls Redevelopment is owned by Howard P. Milstein, a billionaire Manhattan developer who is close to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who appointed Milstein chairman of the Thruway Authority. Milstein once owned the New York Islanders hockey team.
And the state is a major player in the Bills lease, committing to pay $54 million toward a $130 million renovation of the Ralph.
Zona said, “To me, it makes sense because it’s obvious the Bills want the Canadian, Toronto market. You’re cutting off about one-third of the distance by building a stadium in downtown Niagara Falls, near the border.”
In 2009, the Niagara County Legislature passed a resolution in support of the “Niagara Bills,” as the sponsor, former Legislator Jason J. Cafarella, called them.
However, that resolution emphasized that the first option was to keep the team in Erie County, and Niagara County should make a move only if the Bills looked like they were going to relocate.
On Wednesday, Trevino referred questions to a spokesman who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.