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With Bills stadium funding deal in place, focus turns to community benefits

There are talks about mass transit improvements, vendor opportunities, infrastructure, and youth programs.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Even though a memorandum of understanding has been worked out for the new Bills stadium among the team, the NFL, the state, and the county, there is still work to be done.

Besides the actual 30-year lease, they must also agree on a community benefits agreement, which is required.  

After the politicians and team and NFL execs proudly announced stadium success, there is still the Community Benefits Agreement worked out in the past for sports palaces such as the former Staples Center for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Penguins' hockey arena in Pittsburgh.

Now here in the Buffalo area, talks begin to lift up impoverished sectors of the greater community and counter economic inequality with key players at the table.

"I don't think there's not one community in Erie County that doesn't think that their neighborhood or their community could improve or do better," Erie County Legislature chairperson April Baskin said. "Or that the youth in their neighborhood don't deserve more investment. Or that infrastructure in their neighborhood could see more productivity."

Some basic ideas are already under discussion, such as with the NFTA for improved mass transit access. There are only two current bus routes and one of those is an express run with a very limited schedule.

"Whoever is hired to construct the stadium or the architecture that is involved in designing the stadium, actually work transportation into the actual infrastructure," Baskin said.

She also hopes to see a greater focus on stadium food vendor, maintenance or security opportunities.

"The vendors that are engaged on stadium contracts operating the stadium," she said. "We need to make sure that we have a carve-out for women and minorities who come from marginalized backgrounds and oftentimes have difficulty with upward mobility in entrepreneurship.

"They should be made available to have as much access to contracts at the stadium as possible, and that could go from food service contracts all the way down to security contracts."  

Just like the NFTA, Baskin says there have been some preliminary discussions with a big corporate entity such as Delaware North, which has the current stadium concessions contract.

Then for communities, Baskin suggests more program investment in young people who may be susceptible to crime. She would like to see more.

"Be it job opportunities, be it inadequate available housing," she said. 

2 On Your Side asked, who do you think, or where do you think, some of these programs would be funded from?

Baskin replied, "That needs to be discussed at the negotiation table of the community benefits agreement. But to my knowledge the Pegula Sports and Entertainment has a long history of investing into the community already."

While not anticipating any issues, Baskin feels the county legislature still has some leverage with the team. There are still votes on the actual stadium and land transfer to the state. And there will be future votes on stadium construction financing bonds.

She says they could, if need be, be used to try and make sure Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the Bills keep up their end of the bargain.

Neither the Bills vice president Ron Raccuia or Delaware North returned our calls for comment.  

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