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Legislature peppers Buffalo Bills, Poloncarz on Bills stadium deal

The legislature held its first of two work sessions Thursday meant to discuss the memorandum of understanding reached by the state, county, and the Buffalo Bills.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Erie County Legislature held its first of two sessions Thursday meant to discuss and explore the non-binding deal reached by the Buffalo Bills, the county, and New York State last month.

The 14-page deal or memorandum of understanding (MOU) released on March 30 laid out things like, who will build the new stadium, how the future lease will work, and how the project will be financed.

The county's lawmaking body was not privy to negotiations so, on Thursday, legislators peppered the Bills and county leadership with questions about the deal; answers to which will inform how the legislators vote.

Despite some robust discussion, the deal is expected to pass, which could happen as soon as May 12, during the legislature's next scheduled meeting.

If and when it does, Erie County would front $250 million for the project. The New York State Legislature approved their $600 million segment in the state budget earlier this month. The details on public financing were laid out in the "New Stadium Construction and Contributions" section of the MOU.

One of the first questions Thursday came from Minority Leader Joe Lorigo (R), who asked Pegula Sports and Entertainment Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia to comment on whether the team ever threatened to leave Buffalo.

"No," Raccuia said. 

"Our full focus from day one was to get a new deal done for a new stadium here in Buffalo."

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz have previously indicated the opposite is true. Hochul, on one occasion, said that she was aware of cities that had lost their NFL teams reaching out to the Bills. Poloncarz also reaffirmed his previous comments Thursday.

The Bills, county, and the state have until September 1 to finalize and sign all documents related to the deal and there are several unfinished items, Poloncarz said.

"We still have to enter into a lease, construction agreement, a community benefits agreement and other agreements related to this," he said. All agreements are being negotiated simultaneously.

One such agreement will involve the sale of personal seat licenses or PSLs, which Poloncarz said will be sold by a government body on behalf of the Bills' owners.

PSLs are a fee fans pay for the privilege of then buying season tickets. They have been sold by other teams around the NFL as a way to supplement the cost of building a new stadium placed on team ownership. Both Poloncarz and Raccuia were asked about this new requirement for Bills fans.

"We recognize our market, we will not price out our fans and I believe at the end of the day we will have the lowest PSL prices in the NFL," Raccuia said.

He later told reporters that a PSL for the new Bills stadium would start around $1,000.

Legislator Jeanne Vinal asked about other uses for the stadium outside of football season. The future space has been advertised as "multi-use."

Raccuia explained that the new stadium on top of being required to have availability for five civic events would be used a lot more than the current one and not just for ticketed or sporting events.

"What we're going to build with this new stadium is a lot more community space where the community can gather for special events, meetings, celebrations," Raccuia said.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz added that Erie County will still be paying off the current stadium after the new one is built, but said that payments are set to significantly decrease in a few years. Minority Leader Joe Lorigo has proposed taking a second look at how the county splits its $250 million portion between paying out of surplus and taking out a loan.

"We haven't seen what the debt service is going to cost taxpayers over the next 20 to 30 years if we can reduce that by putting more money down upfront it's absolutely something that we should be doing," said Minority Leader Joe Lorigo.

Erie County currently has a surplus between $150 million and $170 million Lorigo added.