If the new owner of the Buffalo Bills demands a new stadium, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signaled Wednesday a concern that there is a limit to how much taxpayer money can go into it.
At the same time, he said he will do what he can to keep the team in Western New York.
The governor’s comments came in Buffalo, while down the road in Orchard Park, work is underway on a $130 million renovation project – using more than $90 million in state and county taxpayer money – on the team’s existing Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“If it’s a modification of the existing stadium, great, because we’re already going down that road. If they say, ‘We won’t stay unless there’s a new stadium,’ then we’re going to have to probe that discussion,” Cuomo told reporters. “Then it’s about the money … and who’s going to pay?”
He added: “If we’re going to ask the taxpayers for the money, then we want to be very clear about the terms and conditions … I am very cautious at anything that would cost money.”
Cuomo said the state will be interested to hear if the new owners – whoever they may be – will be interested in staying in Orchard Park or moving to another part of the region and whether a new stadium project might be a stand-alone facility or part of some larger “economic development complex” that could create year-round jobs.
The governor made his comments as a state-hired consulting team is studying potential sites in the region for a new stadium. The Buffalo News recently reported that those potential sites range from downtown and the Buffalo Central Terminal property to Niagara Falls.
Cuomo acknowledged the one bit of certainty in the team’s future: No one has a clue, except maybe the trust handling the sale for the team’s recently deceased owner, what is happening at the moment or who might bid on the team and what the future owners even want in a stadium or location.
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s find out who, what, and then respond to facts and reality rather than giving ourselves indigestion responding to hearsay,” Cuomo said.
“There are a lot of rumors, and frankly I don’t think anybody knows what they are talking about now because it’s a developing situation, by definition,” he added.
The governor noted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that a new stadium is advisable if the Bills are to stay in Buffalo but added that the commissioner “didn’t go as far as saying” it’s a condition for the team to remain.
The governor said a number of people have raised the “good point” that renovations of Ralph Wilson Stadium have only recently begun.
“Let’s complete those renovations,” he said.
Cuomo’s comments suggest a sensitivity to concerns that some taxpayers might have, especially in other parts of the state, about the state agreeing to unleash millions more in public funds on a new stadium when it only just last year cut the deal with the late Ralph C. Wilson Jr. for the $130 million in renovations to the Orchard Park facility.
The 2013 deal with the team is supposed to keep the team in the region for at least another six years unless the owners want to pay a $400 million parting penalty.
“Our thought and belief at that time was that was enough,” Cuomo said of the renovations to the stadium, though he added the deal did include the creation of a working group – composed of team, county and state representatives – to look at the possibility of a new stadium either on the existing property or a new location at some undetermined point in the future.
Cuomo said there are just too many unknowns right now for him to say where a new stadium might go, if a new stadium is desired by the future owners and whether a new owner would push to relocate the team.
“I am going to do everything I can to keep the Bills in Buffalo,” the governor said.