The good news for Western New Yorkers is that the right people are on board with the mission of ensuring that the Buffalo Bills stay right here where they belong.
In this region’s corner is the National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, and two of our most powerful and effective politicians, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Charles E. Schumer. Joining them is Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, whose support is also critical.
But there is a caveat – a marker that Goodell threw down and that everyone seems to accept as necessary: Somebody needs to build a new stadium.
That could be a complicated process and will definitely be an expensive one, but the price is worth paying. The Bills are too much a part of this town – of its psyche, its identity, its oxygen supply – to allow the team to slip away over a mere billion or so dollars.
You gulped, right? Even in the days of multimillion-dollar player contracts, $1 billion is a lot of money, a sum that will require state help to produce and season ticket holders to maintain. Still, that is the way of the world today. If Buffalo had no team, you’d have to think long and hard before ponying up that kind money. But the team is here, irreversibly infused into the psychological landscape of Western New York. So, yes, a billion dollars. Why not?
That appears to be Cuomo’s view of the situation, as well. “We will do what we have to do to keep the Bills in Western New York,” he said Wednesday. “If a new stadium is what’s needed and is possible, it will get done.”
Cuomo, no doubt, has an additional reason to keep the Bills here: Despite the existence of two NFL teams with New York in their names, the Bills are the only one actually playing in the Empire State, the others having decamped to the swamps of New Jersey. No governor would relish being the one who allows the remaining team to slip away.
The work is complex. First, the heirs of the late Ralph Wilson need to sell the team, as is their plan, and some big names are expressing interest, including Donald Trump, former Sabres owner Thomas Golisano and Jon Bon Jovi.
If that’s not dense enough, the New Stadium Working Group, of which Schumer is a member, is simultaneously looking into the feasibility and potential location of a new stadium. Should it stay in Orchard Park? That would, no doubt, be the least complicated possibility, environmentally and politically, but other suggestions have included the Buffalo waterfront and even Niagara Falls.
The waterfront would be an inappropriate use of a valuable – and, for decades, unavailable – resource, and the environmental studies and political opposition would be daunting, all but guaranteeing lawsuits. And for what purpose? To put acres of waterfront land out of reach of most residents? It’s not worth it. Niagara Falls should be another nonstarter, with the thought of the resulting backups at the Grand Island bridges making fans shudder.
The group is also examining the possibility that the existing stadium could be further upgraded to meet the needs of new owners. It’s important to study such work, but the stadium’s long-term suitability seems remote. That option would make it easier for the team’s owners to move it to a city with a new stadium where the organization could potentially make a lot more money.
So, yes, consider the possibility of upgrading Ralph Wilson Stadium, but start looking now for that billion dollars. There is no room in this country for the Boise Bills or the Bangor Bills or, heaven forefend, the Brooklyn Bills.