BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said in Tuesday’s debate with Republican challenger Chrissy Casilio that the winner of the November election will likely be responsible for negotiating the next lease for the Buffalo Sabres arena, which reportedly expires during the upcoming term.
But if Poloncarz is reelected, he does not expect details of the project to be made public until a deal is reached.
“I’ll never negotiate in public and tell you exactly what I want out of the deal, because then I’m never going to get it,” Poloncarz said from the debate stage in News 4’s North Buffalo studio. “I know that not only as being County Executive [and] County Comptroller but an attorney that worked in private practice for many years.”
Poloncarz said that Erie County owns the shell of KeyBank Center, the City of Buffalo owns the land on which it stands and the Sabres are responsible for the upkeep of the building. He confirmed previous media reports that the Pegulas, who own the Sabres, have said they would foot the bill for renovating the arena’s roof and said that taxpayers would not be on the hook for those upgrades.
Casilio said that amid what she described as “affordability issues” and “childcare issues” that are contributing to the “suffering” of Erie County residents, the county should prioritize projects that “put families first.”
“Unless there is a study that shows that there will be dramatic community benefits for us to contribute even more millions of your taxpayer dollars into these projects, then we will not proceed further,” Casilio said. “But we have to know and see how it is going to benefit the Erie County residents.”
Casilio took issue with Poloncarz’s claim that he does not negotiate in public, saying that the County Executive’s 2019 book about his involvement in the 10-year lease deal the county negotiated with the Bills in 2013, “Beyond the Xs and Os,” has already tipped his hand at the negotiating table.
“I just have to disagree because your book explained exactly how you negotiate and how every part of that deal went down. So you’ve already exposed your tactics and they’re going to able to just use that as a guide for — they used it for this current stadium and they’ll use if for the KeyBank Center.”
Casilio ‘very happy’ with Bills lease
Casilio did tell Poloncarz she was “very happy” with the deal the county negotiated for the new Bills stadium, calling the stadium “an essential part of our community.” However, the Clarence business owner criticized Poloncarz for what she saw as a lack of transparency throughout the process.
“What does concern me is the lack of transparency, given that there was so much our taxpayer monies that were spent towards this deal,” Casilio said. “I don’t understand why everything has to be a secret with Mr. Poloncarz and why, given that it is our money that you are spending, why you can’t be more transparent with the plan.”
“When it comes down to the contracts, the costs, how this is being bidded out — this entire thing has been a secret,” Casilio said. “We should have known about everything every step of the way because that is our tax dollars.”
Poloncarz fired back, claiming that the county has been fully transparent with the public since negotiations were completed.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about. Every one of the contracts is online, on the Erie.gov website,” Poloncarz said. “There have been multiple discussions before the Legislature about what the contracts meant and how much money the county was putting in, which is actually less in the long run than if we just continued the existing deal … Everything’s out there. She just probably doesn’t know about it.”
Justin McMullen is a Western New York native who joined the News 4 team in 2023. You can read more of his work here.