Saturday, September 22, 2018

Pegula: Bills stadium plans on hold until after elections

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — In preparing to open their 46th season in Orchard Park, New York, this weekend, the Buffalo Bills are setting their sights on longer-term plans in determining whether to renovate their existing facility or build a new one.

Bills co-owner Kim Pegula told The Associated Press both options are on the table, though formal discussions won't begin until after New York's gubernatorial race is settled in November.

"That makes sense, and regardless of who wins or doesn't win, that would be for us the prudent thing to do," Pegula said during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, four days before the Bills' home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. "There's no reason to cause a lot of distractions right now."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration played a role in negotiating the team's current lease in 2012, is running for a third term, and being challenged by Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary. Marcus Molinaro is the Republican candidate.

Pegula reiterated while there have been internal discussions regarding the future of their current home, New Era Field, no decisions have been made, and the team has not yet hired a consultant to conduct a feasibility study.

The clock, however, is ticking, with Pegula saying she would like to have the framework of a plan in place before the current lease expires in the summer of 2023.

"Oh, I certainly think we're going to be on our way or at least knowing a direction or a path by the time the lease is up," she said.

"I don't want to put a time frame on it. I know that people here want the team to stay here," Pegula added. "They all know something needs to be done. To what extent? No one yet has come out and said what it is."

The next step becomes meeting with state and local officials to determine how much public money might be available to fund an expensive project no matter which option the Bills choose. A state-funded study in 2014 estimated the next renovations at New Era Field would cost $540 million, including structural improvements and rebuilding the stadium's third deck. A new facility would cost almost double, depending on location, whether it features a roof, and how much infrastructure upgrades — expanded roads, access ramps, public transportation — might be necessary.

The state and county have a stake in New Era Field, which opened in 1973. Nearly $227 million of taxpayer money was committed to renovations and annual capital and game-day expenses over the current 10-year lease. The Bills' share was $35.455 million, not including the $18 million the team spent on upgrading club seats this year.

The Bills are the NFL's only New York-based team and estimated to generate $20 million in annual tax revenue in 2012.

Pegula understands cost is an issue and takes into account how the Bills are based in one of the NFL's smallest markets, and feature some of the league's lowest average ticket prices. As a result, she said it's not feasible to propose building a new stadium on the grand scale the Rams are erecting in Los Angeles.

"We don't know where it's going to be, how much, how little, who's going to the partners, where we can even get to as a marketplace," Pegula said, noting she's not sure whether seat licensing fees can work in Buffalo.

"All these questions we haven't figured out. But certainly, we're going to do everything we can on our side to provide, upgrade and bring about a much more progressive fan experience," Pegula said. "Eventually, one answer will rise to the top. But certainly there's going to be multiple options out there."

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