Continued uncertainty over the Buffalo Bills' future in Western New York has prompted another push to make the New Stadium Working Group subject to the state Open Meetings Law.
A new stadium to replace Highmark Stadium, formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium, is projected to cost $1 billion, whether it was built near the existing facility in Orchard Park or at a downtown site. Staying at Highmark Stadium, which opened in 1973, would cost $540 million for the next series of renovations, according to a 2014 study by AECOM. The study based its estimates on what it cost the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs to extensively renovate their facilities over the previous decade.
Questions over the Bills' lease has prompted speculation the team may move, though Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told the Associated Press in early August it was too early in lease negotiations to worry about the team moving. Poloncarz also said the team wouldn't get a "blank check" from the state and county, either.
"We will get a deal done," Poloncarz told the Associated Press. "It's just got to be a fair deal for all."
Either renovations or a new stadium is likely to be backed with some public money, prompting Assemblyman Pat Burke, D-West Seneca, and state Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Buffalo, to renew their push to make sure deliberations about the Bills' future are held publicly. A.8261 was recently reintroduced in the state Assembly. Versions of A.8261/S.1714 have been introduced periodically since 2014 — when state and local money was approved to upgrade the stadium.
"Since the passing of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., the New Stadium Working Group, an advisory committee created under the Erie County Stadium Corporation, has been tasked with determining potential sites for building a new stadium and exploring the feasibility of making additional renovations to the team's current Ralph Wilson Stadium. Ninety-five million dollars in state and county funds has already been committed to improving the team's current stadium in Orchard Park. With the vast amount of public money involved as well as the important economic and cultural impact on Western New York, the New Stadium Working Group should be subject to the open meetings law. This bill would ensure this process is open and transparent," Burke and Gallivan wrote in their legislative memorandum.
As the NFL's only New York-based franchise, the Bills in 2013 were estimated to generate $20 million annually in state taxes, according to the Associated Press.