“We said at the time when they entered into their new lease, that this is really a short-term solution. We need to find the right long-term solution that is good for the community and can help the Bills continue to be successful in Western New York, and I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said Wednesday at an NFL-sponsored event in Manhattan, ahead of today’s first round of the NFL Draft.
According to officials in Albany, Goodell for weeks has been privately discussing the new stadium option as the best avenue to secure the team’s long-term future in Western New York. But sources say Bills officials have been reluctant to talk about a new stadium, in part, because of a fear it could hurt the sale of the team.
Still, Goodell’s statements elicited quick positive reactions from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was open to the idea, and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who wants all options available.
“We will do what we have to do to keep the Bills in Western New York,” Cuomo said late today. “I spoke with Commissioner Goodell and County Executive Poloncarz yesterday, and we’re all on the same page: If a new stadium is what’s needed and is possible, it will get done.”
But Poloncarz also emphasized that every option should be explored.
“I, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, am committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo for generations to come, regardless of who the new owner may be,” Poloncarz said. “As evidence of this commitment, consultants have been retained on behalf of the state and county to prepare options for the consideration of prospective owners that will include (1) a new stadium to be constructed at one or more possible locations and (2) the further renovation or retrofit of Ralph Wilson Stadium beyond the renovations currently being undertaken.
“At this time, all options should be part of the discussion and nothing should be disregarded,” he added.
Goodell noted that the process of selling the team is just getting started.
“They are working on their process as far as selecting their advisers. They will probably do that in the near future. Then when they have their advisers selected, they’ll start a more formal process,” Goodell said when asked for an update on the sale of the team.
The commissioner was referring to a financial group to be retained by the Bills to evaluate all aspects of the team in preparation for its sale.
Goodell said he’s optimistic about the team’s long-term future in Western New York.
“I’ve had a lot of discussions with prospective owners, but I’ve also had discussions with public officials. We all want to focus and get that stadium and do it the right way and get the right ownership in there to make sure they continue to be successful in Western New York,” he said.
When the Bills signed their 10-year lease with Erie County in December 2012 that called for $130 million in improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium, part of the agreement included the formation of a New Stadium Working Group, which would explore the feasibility of a new stadium. That group has since been formed – it held its first meeting last month – with representatives from the state, county and team.
The Buffalo News reported last month that the sale of the team is on a fast track and could be completed in time for owners to vote on it at their annual meeting in October. Approval of 75 percent of the league’s owners is required.
Goodell was asked whether the NFL would approve an ownership group with designs on moving the team – specifically to Toronto.
“Well, that hasn’t happened, so you’re dealing with a lot of hypotheticals in there. There’s two votes. There’s one vote to approve an ownership, and if a team potentially relocates, it’s another vote,” the commissioner said. “We’re not making those one vote. We’re making those two separate votes. And the intention is, whoever buys the team will be trying to make the team work in Western New York.”
While Cuomo discussed the possibility of a new stadium, Poloncarz emphasized that the option of renovating the current facility should not be dismissed.
“We look forward to commencing these discussions with an owner who is likewise committed to keeping the team here in its first, and what should be its only, home territory of Buffalo and Erie County,” he said.
In addition, State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, weighed in on the new stadium issue by sponsoring legislation to open the deliberations of the New Stadium Working Group the the media and public. His bill mirrors a similar measure just introduced by Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo.
He said Wednesday that Goodell’s comments make public scrutiny an even more important objective.
“These are public funds, and this should be done in an open manner,” he said. “That’s the very simple nature of it.”
Gallivan added that he believes the proceedings of the New Stadium Working Group is governed by the Open Meetings Law, because of its consideration of public funds. He also said he is willing to tweak the language of his bill to accommodate any technical concerns.
“The work of this committee will have a significant economic and cultural impact on Western New York, and the process should not take place in secret,” he said.
Gallivan and Kearns have both said that considering the vast amount of public dollars at stake, it is only right that these meetings be open to the public. Gallivan said Wednesday he has discussed his bill with Kearns and questioned how any Western New York legislator could oppose conducting the group’s meetings in public.
But Poloncarz and Cuomo issued divergent reactions to the Gallivan bill, which assumes a new and better chance of passage under consideration in both houses of the Legislature.
The county executive’s spokesman, Peter Anderson, reiterated late Wednesday the group is a “non-governmental, strictly advisory body whose meetings are not subject to the Open Meetings Law.”
“Due to the delicate nature of the items to be discussed, much of the information is confidential in nature,” Anderson said. “Release of it could negatively impact the future of the Bills in Western New York, and we certainly would not want to hurt efforts to keep the team in Western New York.”
But the Cuomo administration late Wednesday seemed to welcome the Kearns/Gallivan proposal.
“We favor having the meetings opened up and conducted in the spirit of Open Meetings Law,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.