ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – The negotiations to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the Bills stadium deal continue to take place in private. But little by little, we’re learning more about what will be inside the Community Benefits Agreement between the team, New York State, and Erie County.
The Bills are committing to $3 million in investments annually, which, adjusting for inflation, is expected to amount to more than $100 million over the course of the 30-year lease. Elected officials and community groups insisted this would have to be part of the deal if the team wanted $850 million in public money for the $1.4 billion stadium’s construction.
So far, at least one of those groups like what they see in the CBA.
“I think the big win here is that the reinvestment does reach beyond the stadium,” said Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, the executive director for the Partnership for the Public Good and a member of the 716 Play Fair Coalition. The group has spent the last several months campaigning for a strong CBA.
The final Community Benefits Agreement has not been made public yet. However, public documents through the Erie County Stadium Corporation, a subsidiary of New York State’s Empire State Development, share some of the things it will include.
The documents state that the CBA will set a 30% goal for minority and women-owned businesses to be involved as retailers, vendors, and service companies in stadium maintenance and operations and a 6% goal for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses to be involved in those services. There is also a 30% goal for food products used in the new stadium’s concessions be purchased from minority and women-owned businesses certified by Erie County, and a requirement that the Bills try to offer food and beverage items that are made in New York State.
The Bills will also have to apply prevailing wage programs for workers during construction and promote living wage standards for employees working at the new stadium.
The document also details how the benefits will extend throughout Western New York, as Ó Súilleabháin and others asked for. For instance, it says the Bills will provide paid internships to high school students, with a 30% of those students living in what the document calls “disadvantaged communities.” The Bills will also collaborate with high schools and colleges to speak to students about the business of sports. The paperwork also says the Bills will commit to work with local artists to develop a community art program in connection with the new stadium.
The agreement requires that the Bills, New York State, and Erie County work together to expand public transportation to and from the stadium. A transportation hub will also have to be implemented in the new stadium complex design. Ó Súilleabháin says that part of the deal highlights an important need.
“That’s something that hopefully this agreement will bring new energy to,” she said. “There are so many partners and regional authorities that are working on that issue already.”
Ahead of the 2022 Bills season, the NFTA brought back game day bus service to the stadium, something that had been missing for several years. Transit authority officials say they’ve been “actively involved in stadium transportation discussions from the start.”
All of the CBA commitments will be monitored by a Community Benefit Oversight Committee. The committee will “be tasked with monitoring, oversight, and accountability with respect to commitments made by the Bills” and “identify priorities where the Bills can best direct their resource commitments…”
The CBOC will be made up of nine members with the following breakdown, according to legislative staff: two appointed by the Erie County Executive, two appointed by the Erie County Legislature Chairperson, two appointed by the Erie County Stadium Corporation, and three appointed by the Bills.
Erie County Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin, who has been a major driver of the community benefits deal, called it historic.
“I don’t think there is a CBA in the nation that compares to what Buffalo and Erie County is getting,” she said.
“We don’t have a strong culture of corporate accountability, of community benefits and reinvestment in broader Western New York,” Ó Súilleabháin said. “So this deal is really an important first step showing corporations that if you receive large public subsidies for your projects in Western New York, there is going to be an expectation of significant dollars back into the community.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter and anchor 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.