After Spending Big on Mario, Bills Look To Taxpayers for Stadium Upgrades | News
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The future of the Buffalo Bills is becoming a political topic of discussion just days before a special election.
The team just signed superstar Mario Williams to a $100 million contract. At the same time, the club is reportedly seeking as much $100 million in taxpayer dollars to improve their stadium.
On Sunday, 2 On Your Side caught up with two men running for a vacant state assembly seat that represents Orchard Park, which is home of the Bills.
The county, which owns the stadium, is currently in lease negotiations with the Bills. County Executive Mark Poloncarz has hired a national law firm with a presence in Buffalo to negotiate the lease. He hopes to have a deal done before training camp, and that the lease would run at least 10 years, if not longer.
Whatever the parties ultimately agree to, county leaders may ask the state, and perhaps even the federal government, to contribute some of those tax dollars to the deal.
Ralph Wilson Stadium is approximately 40 years old and in need of some upgrades to keep the Bills in the Western New York. The county's current lease with the team expires after this coming season. Unlike the last round of negotiations in the late 1990s, Bills owner Ralph Wilson has not suggested he would move the team if they don't get what they need.
Two people with a big stake in the outcome of those negotiations are Chris Fahey and Mickey Kearns, who are running for the vacant assembly seat for the district where the stadium is located. Both were guests on WBEN's Hardline Sunday morning.
After their appearance, we asked them whether we should be offering up as much as $100 million in taxpayer dollars when the Bills are dishing out that kind of money to sign big-name free agents.
"I think that, when you're looking at stadiums throughout the country, whether it was Yankee Stadium, New York has fully subsidized those stadiums," Kearns said. "The Bills are an important part of our economy. They're an important part of our area. And what they do internally is something they do. But, talk to those small business people that got bars and restaurants, that generates excitement."
"If you look at the market around the country, that's what every market does," Fahey said. "So, if we're going to compete, we need to participate... It will be a negotiation. And we'll have to see how that negotiation plays out."
At Sunday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Buffalo, we also caught up with several other state, federal and local leaders who may have a say in that process.
First, we spoke to Congressman Brian Higgins.
VIDEOGRAPHER: Is it fair for them to handout so much money on one hand, and ask for money on the other?
HIGGINS: I'm not an expert. I'm not a football expert, but I will tell you a winning team solves a lot of problems, and I think the acquisition the Bills made with Mario Williams is a step in the right direction... And I hope the ownership is committed to Super Bowl team or a Super Bowl run again. So, people are going to put value judgements on it, but I think that it's good that we're moving in the right direction. The lease negotiations will be separate and distinct.
Congresswoman Kathy Hochul also believes the taxpayer dollars will be well spent.
"That happens all over the country," Hochul said. "I don't know of a stadium that's built that doesn't have public dollars involved. And it's not just the identity, but the spin-off businesses, to bring people in this community together united with our team. So, I think it's important to do what we have to do to keep the Bills here."
State Senator Tim Kennedy was adamant about spending whatever is necessary to keep the team in Western New York.
REPORTER: That's a lot of money we're talking about. Is that a good investment of tax dollars?
KENNEDY: I'll tell you what -- we're going to lose a heck of a lot more in taxpayer money, in energy in this community, in everything else in the fabric in this community if the Bills go elsewhere. We absolutely need to keep the only New York State football team in Buffalo, New York. And we're going to make sure that we do.
County Legislator Lynne Dixon argued that, while taxpayer money will be spent, the county should be careful about how much is spent.
"Obviously, we're living in difficult times. And it is a heavy left to ask people to bear that burden," Dixon said. "On the other hand, I don't think mist people in Western New York want to see the Bills leave. So, again, it's striking that right balance."