When the Buffalo Bills kick off their season home opener in Ralph Wilson Stadium in September, New York State officials will have a new place to schmooze executives and other bigwigs as they try to lure them to the region.
Included in a lengthy stadium lease agreement is a requirement that the state have access to a 16-person suite for all Buffalo Bills games that it can use as its “I Love New York Hospitality Center” for economic development, tourism and public awareness of the region and the state.
The idea, state officials said, is to have a place where state agencies can host out-of-town executives who might be considering moving a company to Erie County or to hold events to promote the region.
Kenneth Adams, president and CEO of Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic development agency, called the suite a “great way to show off Buffalo and the Western New York region to businesses interested in relocating their jobs and operations.”
The state also will be able to use Bills logos and trademarks for its “I Love New York” campaign and to promote Western New York and the state.
Both are part of a 10-year stadium deal that moved a step toward completion Thursday as the Erie County Legislature unanimously approved the final lease documents and authorized the county to borrow $40.7 million for its share of the stadium renovations. Empire State Development and the National Football League owners gave their approvals to the lease documents earlier this week.
Russ Brandon, Buffalo Bills president and chief executive officer, issued a statement after the Legislature vote. “This was an important step in the continued process for finalizing the lease agreement and remaining on schedule for the renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium,” he said. “…We look forward to the final approval by the New York State Legislature in the near future.”
Officials hope representatives from the Bills, Erie County and the state will be able to sign the final contracts early next month. The final approval needed will come from state lawmakers as they vote on the state’s $53.9 million share of the stadium work.
“We’ll be ready to close as soon as the state budget is adopted,” Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said.
The 10-year deal, announced in December, calls for $130 million in stadium upgrades split among the state, county and the team. In addition to the construction project, the county and the state have agreed to pay for annual stadium maintenance and upgrades, as well as team subsidies and reimbursements for game day and stadium operating expenses. The team will provide $35.5 million for the stadium renovation and will pay for a portion of the annual stadium upgrades through rent payments.
Tobe said state officials plan to use the suite to promote New York State for business and expect to feature local fruit and vegetables and products made in the state.
The state will be required to pay for any food and beverage costs in the suite, according to the lease.
Erie County did not seek similar accommodations during negotiations with the Buffalo Bills.
“We didn’t feel the need for that because whenever we need the Bills to host, if we have a company prospect, they’re always very, very willing to do that,” Tobe said. “It’s in our mutual interest to have new companies come in. They hope to get a box purchased from it, and obviously we want the new company.”
State officials will not be able to use the stadium suite unless it is for a list of pre-approved uses that include “charitable or public functions” and “encouraging and fostering economic development, tourism and public awareness for the City of Buffalo, Erie County and the State of New York.” Use of the suite will be approved through Empire State Development, a spokeswoman for the agency said.
“We are proud of the Bills and Western New York, and we want business leaders from around the country to know what a great place this is to invest and grow,” Adams said.