ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Erie County Legislature has unanimously approved all documents related to the new Buffalo Bills Stadium deal.
During a special meeting Thursday, lawmakers closed out two years of negotiating and approved the county's $250 million investment, along with all related documents.
They include a new lease agreement, a community benefits deal, a non-relocation agreement, and 16 others, which were released on April 4 after being signed by the Buffalo Bills, Erie County, and New York State.
The legislature had pledged to review the documents over 30 days, and on May 4 they voted. The approval was applauded by county, labor, and other leaders who were in the chamber to celebrate what Chairwoman April Baskin called a "historic" moment.
"We all had a lot of phone calls, a lot of late-night discussions, a lot of talking over pizza to make sure what we were doing was what was going to benefit the families across Erie County," Baskin said.
Added Legislator Chris Greene, who represents the county's 6th District: "This is a great accomplishment for Erie County and I think it represents really how government should be operating. Over the past year, the county executive has worked with both caucuses of the legislature briefing them on the details of the agreement."
Prior to the vote Thursday afternoon, two review sessions were held where Erie County lawmakers got an in-person briefing from some of the deal's top negotiators. They also had the chance to ask questions and get answers.
On Wednesday, the meeting dealt more with construction financing, logistics, and community impacts. Thursday, however, was when lawmakers asked about some of the following:
- The surcharge on stadium-related items that will be used to pay for capital improvements on the new structure;
- A county Hospitality Center or suite in the lease for which lawmakers will determine how it is used and draw up rules;
- Whether player appearances will have value when calculating the team's $3 million dollar annual community benefits investment;
- How PSLs, or personal seat licenses, will be set at a market rate suitable for Buffalo.
The consensus appeared to be that the new stadium deal would be a good investment, and good overall for Western New York.
"The construction dollars are going into local wallets and purses because of the construction labor agreement, and we have a community benefit agreement that's going to bring back $100 million over the life of the lease," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.
Added Jeff Zubler, a Business Agent for Local 22 Plumbers and Steamfitters: "It feels fantastic, we've needed a project like this for a long time. It's going to be great to get out there and get the workforce out."
Shortly after the approval vote, the Buffalo Bills shared in a statement that "construction would begin immediately" at the stadium site along Abbott Road in Orchard Park.
"Now that all the negotiations are over, we are excited to begin the physical phase of this project, which will lead to the opening of the stadium," Bills Executive Vice President and COO Ron Raccuia said.
Raccuia added that major construction in June will begin with excavation and that final stadium designs, while never really final will be "extremely dialed in" by then.
Poloncarz added that he wouldn't be surprised if work started within 24 to 48 hours at the site. The Bills have already announced that parking will be altered during construction including this upcoming season.
"We want to thank Governor Hochul, the County Executive, and all of our public partners for bringing this process to a successful conclusion," Raccuia added in the statement.
The team hopes to have the new stadium constructed by the start of the 2026 season. Highmark Stadium will have to be maintained by the county until then, at a cost close to $2 million per year.
After that Erie County will be "getting out of the stadium business" as the County Executive has stated time and again. The new stadium will be solely owned by the state entity set up to manage it.
Demolition of Highmark Stadium will commence when the new stadium and site are complete.