The Buffalo Bills National Footfall League team plans to build a $1.4-billion stadium in the Buffalo, N.Y., suburb of Orchard Park after state and Erie County officials agreed to contribute more than half of the expected cost.
The franchise has hired architecture firm Populous to design the stadium and is “in the process of finalizing” a construction manager, said Ron Raccuia, executive vice president of team owner Pegula Sports and Entertainment, in an interview posted on the team’s website.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said the project would support about 10,000 construction jobs. The stadium would be built under a project labor agreement negotiatted with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Buffalo, she added in a statement. Raccuia said the team expected to have the project labor agreement, construction coordination agreement and other key deals signed by Sept. 1.
Taxpayers may cover $850 million for the project. Hochul said the state will contribute $600 million, pending approval from legislators. New York lawmakers are due to approve a state budget by April 1. Erie County legislators are expected to vote on a $250-million contribution in the next 30 days.
Hochul touted the team’s economic impact as a reason to include public funding, saying that revenue attributed to the team’s income, sales and use taxes will add up to more than $1.6 billion over the 30 years.
“New Yorkers can rest assured that their investment will be recouped by the economic activity the team generates,” she said.
The governor added that the public share of financing accounts for a smaller percentage than on previous stadium deals. The 1970s construction of Highmark Stadium, where the team currently plays, was fully publicly financed, as was a 1998 renovation. Another renovation in 2013 was done with 73% public financing.
As part of the deal, Erie County would transfer ownership of the current stadium and its adjoining complex with practice facilities and office space to the state, which would also own the new stadium and complex, and lease them to the Bills on a 30-year term.
"After two difficult years of the pandemic, this public-private investment is exactly what's needed for hard working families in Western New York," Gary LaBarbera, president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, said in a statement.
The public funding plans drew criticism from some lawmakers, who compared the price to other items debated for inclusion in the state budget. In a tweet, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) called the money for the stadium “a hard pill to swallow” and pointed to a state-run COVID-19-only hospital in New York City he said needed more funding.
AECOM conducted an analysis last year for state development agency Empire State Development comparing construction of a new stadium to another potential renovation of Highmark Stadium. The firm recommended construction of a new stadium, estimating that the useful life of the current stadium even with renovations would not necessarily be worth the lower cost.
The analysis also pointed to the economic value of keeping the team in the market. Its owners had said they would not renew the current stadium's lease, which ends in mid-2023, implying they might have taken the team out of Buffalo without a new stadium in the works.
The new venue will have fewer seats than the 71,000-capacity Highmark Stadium, according to Raccuia. Instead, it will feature larger seats and concourses. The team anticipates having the stadium built in time for the start of the 2026 football season.
The Bills' ADPRO Sports Training Center at One Bills Drive also underwent an $18-million, 25,000-sq-ft expansion in 2019.