ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Bills have reached an agreement with Erie County and the state on a lease deal for the Ralph Wilson Stadium that will keep the NFL franchise in western New York until at least 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and team officials said Friday.
The agreement includes $130 million in renovations for the nearly 40-year-old stadium, with the Bills providing $35 million and the state and county covering the other $95 million.
Bills CEO Russ Brandon said, "Today is a monumental day because today is a significant step in securing the long-term future of the Buffalo Bills in western New York."
Cuomo told a packed news conference at the team's headquarters in Orchard Park that the lease keeps the Bills in Orchard Park at least through the first seven years of the 10-year pact. At the end of the seventh year, the team has the option to leave if they pay a $28 million penalty. If they leave after that, the team would have to pay a $400 million penalty.
Bruce Fisher, Director of the Center of Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College, calls the least agreement just a placeholder.
"Look out for the seven year move. That's what's going to happen. All the leverage is in the hands of the league. I doubt there's going to be a new stadium. But the league might very well be planning for the Buffalo Bills becoming the some-place-else Bills," he warned.
Former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello disagreed.
"I think basically what they're saying to us is we're committed to Buffalo short-term and long-term. Short-term, we're for at least seven years. There's a huge buyout if they leave, which nobody's going to pay. And secondly, it gives them a chance to evaluate a new stadium," Masiello said.
Cuomo, who spoke via a satellite television hookup from New York City because stormy weather Friday prevented him from flying upstate, also said the state and local government and the team will explore the possibility of building a new stadium in the future if that is "financially feasible."
The Bills' current lease expires July 31. The agreement was first reported Friday by The Buffalo News.
The deal was reached after months of talks involving the Bills, county officials and the Cuomo administration. A major sticking point determining how to divide up the costs for renovations and upgrades the Bills are seeking for their home field.
This is regarded as a major step in keeping the Bills in western New York.
Concerns had been raised of the Bills being targeted for relocation. They're a small-market team based in the United States' 56th largest television market. Another issue is the status of team's Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, who turned 94 in October and whose health is slipping.
Wilson spent about a week in hospital in late August due to an undisclosed illness.
Though committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo during his lifetime, Wilson has not made any commitments regarding the team remaining in town following his death. Wilson has made clear that he intends to have his heirs sell the franchise, opening the possibility of the team being purchased by someone interested in relocating the team.
The deal was reached after significant progress was made in talks earlier this week.
Talks had reached a standstill in September, which led to the three sides discussing the possibility of having to reach a one-year extension in order to provide more time to negotiate a long-term lease.
After negotiations picked up, Cuomo and state officials had to divert their attention to preparing for and dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated parts of the East Coast in October.
Associated Press writer Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.
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