ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Governor Kathy Hochul received a standing ovation Monday morning when she referenced the Buffalo Bills stadium agreement during an event at Kleinhans Music Hall.
“How about keeping the Buffalo Bills for 30 years?” Hochul asked, referring to the 30 year lease that accompanies the agreement to fund a new stadium in Orchard Park. The words prompted raucous applause.
But polling released Monday by Siena College shows New Yorkers are not applauding the deal, which calls for the state to provide $600 million. Sixty-three percent of registered voters polled said they disapprove of the state subsidy. Just 24% approve of it.
Surprisingly, the polling also shows a greater proportion of people in the five boroughs of New York City approve of the subsidy (33%) compared to those Upstate (18%). Fifty-five percent of those polled in New York City said they disapproved of the deal, compared to 68% Upstate. Siena defines Upstate New York as everything north of and including Sullivan, Ulster, and Dutchess Counties.
In the New York City suburbs, 21% of registered voters told Siena they approved of the state funding while 69% said they disapproved.
Despite the numbers, Hochul insisted Monday that people Upstate are excited about the lease which keeps the Bills in Orchard Park for three more decades (through 2055 after the projected opening in 2026). She has consistently referred to the project as a “regional priority”.
The governor said, “If you test by poll – and I don’t think this is happening – the billions of dollars we’re putting into Penn Station or the East Side Access Tunnels (in New York City) or ways to invest in projects elsewhere, I would think if we poll all of them, except for the immediate beneficiaries in that neighborhood or community, the answer is probably going to be the same.
“This is what I have to deal with as Governor. I have a large state with a lot of different interests. I know this is important for the identity of Western New York.”
Even Western New Yorkers are hesitant about the idea that $600 million in state money would go toward the project, however. Steven Greenberg, a pollster for the Siena College Research Institute, said they were able to break it down by the 13 western-most counties in the state.
“We talked to 57 voters in those 13 counties,” Greenberg said. “It’s a large margin-of-error, but I don’t think it really matters because the voters in those counties by a better than two-to-one margin – 65%-31% – say they disapprove of this deal.”
The projected stadium construction cost is $1.4 billion. Erie County will also kick in $250 million as part of the agreement between the State, County, and Bills. The team is on the hook for additional costs beyond what is projected.
Supporters insist the deal was necessary to keep the Bills in town. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has said he believes the team would have left for another city without it. On Monday, he named names.
“I can tell you the three cities I was most worried about were San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando,” Poloncarz said. The county executive added speculation that Austin, Texas was a possibility didn’t worry him.
“It was too much in the Dallas Cowboys market. The Cowboys would have never allowed it,” he said.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.