WESTERN NEW YORK – Like just about everybody in Western New York, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster spends his Sunday afternoons in the fall watching football.
"I'm a huge Buffalo Bills fan," Dyster said. "I have been for as long as I can remember."
But he's about to become more than just a fan.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed him to the "New Stadium Working Group," a committee intended to explore options for a potential new stadium. As The Buffalo News first reported on Monday, the state's appointees also include Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Lt. Gov Robert Duffy, Buffalo/Niagara Partnership CEO, Dottie Gallagher-Cohen and Empire State Development President Kenneth Adams. The state could appoint up to seven members to its committee, just as Erie County and the Bills can also appoint seven to partake in the discussions.
After the Bills signed a 10-year lease in Dec. 2012, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz mentioned that discussions of a new stadium would need to begin immediately. Fourteen months ago, he said that "any owner in the future would like to have a new stadium," noting that "we understand it's important to start talking about that now." The lease keeps the Bills in the region for the short-term, since it would penalize the team $400 million for relocating— and even in an opt-out clause after the seventh year, relocation would still cost $28 million. Ralph Wilson and the current ownership have pledged to keep the team in Western New York, but after he relinquishes the team, the idea of a new stadium would present long-term stability for a new owner.
"I hope we're all going to be able to work together here in the spirit of cooperation to make sure the Bills stay in Western New York for our kids and grandkids," Dyster said. "Ralph Wilson has been a fantastic owner, devoted to Western New York, but we want to make certain that… we keep the Bills here."
Dyster said he believes the group would be able to discuss a variety of locations for a new stadium, although he wouldn't say whether he thinks Niagara Falls would stand a chance.
"The purpose of this is not to have communities fighting over where a stadium gets located," Dyster said. "Wherever it is that keeps the Bills in Western New York, that's what I'm in favor of."
The Buffalo Bills' CEO Russ Brandon released this statement on Tuesday:
"We are very appreciative of the continued support of New York State and Erie County for the Buffalo Bills franchise.
Our primary current operations focus is, as it must be, on the modernization process that is occurring presently here at the Ralph Wilson Stadium campus. We have to bring it home safely, on time, on budget and with a level of quality we can all be proud of. We are confident our fans will be excited about the numerous changes taking place on our stadium campus and we look forward to being near completion by the start of the 2014 season.
In the 2013 Ralph Wilson Stadium lease the parties collectively saw the wisdom in the establishment of a New Stadium Working Group. This group was designed to include representatives from New York State, Erie County and the Buffalo Bills. The group's mandate is to begin to explore '(i) the development and construction of a new stadium either on the [Ralph Wilson Stadium site] or on another location in Erie County, or (ii) a substantial renovation of [Ralph Wilson Stadium].'
We look forward to re-engaging with Lt. Governor Bob Duffy and Empire State Development President Kenneth Adams as well as County Executive Mark Poloncarz and his staff, all of whom were instrumental in securing the current modernization project. We also welcome Mayors Byron Brown and Paul Dyster as well as Dottie Gallagher-Cohen of Buffalo Niagara Partnership to the effort."