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Erie County lawmakers consider Bills stadium deal memorandum of understanding

Erie County lawmakers will eventually take up consideration of the stadium deal, which was spelled out in a 14-page memorandum of understanding released Wednesday.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the Bills stadium deal, and 2 On Your Side took those questions to Erie County legislators as we hold people in power accountable.

They will be deciding on whether to approve it. Many seem in favor of doing that, but some seek clarification about the details.  

Just as county lawmakers were in committee meetings Thursday, they will eventually take up consideration of the stadium deal, which was spelled out some more in a 14-page memorandum of understanding released Wednesday.

At first glance, most see the upside. 

Legislator John Bargnesi in District 4 says he actually preferred a downtown stadium site but now feels "the deal that was struck is now in favor of the people. The county giving up the land and the maintenance moving forward saves the county's residents considerable money."

Legislator Howard Johnson offered a bottom-line assessment.

"Next is the groundwork and everything else that comes after," Johnson said. "But the most important piece is that we got the deal done, and the Bills will remain here in Western New York."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Monday emphasized one point when he spoke of the potential creation of 10,000 construction jobs and use of a project labor agreement. He said then: "This is going to be one of the largest construction projects this area has ever seen, and it's going to be built with union labor."  

With that massive project to be built somewhere across the street from the existing stadium, some lawmakers are questioning where are all those workers are going to come from.

Minority Caucus Leader Joseph Lorigo point out: "In our conversations with the county executive, he admitted we simply don't have the union labor in Western New York to accommodate the type of work that needs to be done. And they're already looking at New York City and other states to get those workers.

"I think we should focus on union and non-union workers in Western New York to get that work done."

So we went to a primary source for construction workers here in the area: the Buffalo-Niagara Building Trades Council.

First, Paul Brown, who runs the council, says that 10,000-job figure represents a a cumulative amount during the three to four-year term of construction. He expects about 1,000 workers on the job site at any one time.  

2 On Your Side asked: Are there enough construction workers in this area to do this kind of project?

Brown replied, "Yeah, in this area, yes. There definitely is, and it will get done very well, all the trades, 18 of us, we all recruit apprentices. We always had good apprentices coming out."

Brown points out that many of the downtown hospital building projects took place simultaneously with the Tesla factory construction. He does acknowledge out-of-area companies could indeed bid on the stadium, which is a bit of an economic concern.

"We like the local guys because they live here," Brown said. "They spend their money here. You know this is where their families are. They're not taking their money somewhere else."

Otherwise, many county legislators are really pleased with the county getting out of the football stadium business, as the county executive put it, with the transfer to the state, which they will vote on plus some construction finance bonds as part of the county's $250 million share in the funding formula.  

Plus, they appreciate the built-in community benefits agreement.

But then a variety of issues including a "substantial" drop in the relocation penalty clause if the Bills tried to leave after 15 years in. 

Legislator John Gilmour, who represents Hamburg and Lackawanna, says: "It looks like they're locked in place the first 15 years, then it certainly declines afterwards. But I don't know what substantial means. Is that half? Is that more than half? I mean right now I understand that after a 15-year investment, if the court would allow them to leave, they would still pay a penalty to us, but what is that? We don't know."

Asked if he wanted more information, Gilmour responded, "Yeah, absolutely."

Legislator John Mills, who represents Orchard Park and more southern communities such as Evans and Eden, says, "On the surface, it looks like it's something we can live with. But the devil is in the details, so we'll have to work that out. One of my concerns is The town of Orchard Park. What are we going to do to help the residents around the stadium? It's going to be a rather massive impact on their lives."

Legislator Jeanne Vinal from Amherst noted: "I really felt that I would be prepared to say no if it wasn't a good deal. And I was very glad about so many things, one is that the county share is 18 percent. I think that's very huge. I also was surprised about the idea of transferring the ownership of the stadium to the state, and that would save $6.8 or $7 million a year."

They hope to learn more in the next couple of months also as the actual 30-year Bills lease is worked out.

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