PALM BEACH, Fla. (WIVB) – New York State will spend $600 million – more than 40% of the estimated cost – to help build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. With the NFL owners gathered in Florida for the annual league meeting, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson had complimentary words for Governor Kathy Hochul.
“A courageous move on her part, and very, very good for the state,” Johnson said.
The Bills, State, and Erie County announced Monday they had an agreement to fund the stadium and a 30-year lease for the team to play in it beginning in 2026. The public subsidy – a record $850 million between the state and county – still needs approval from lawmakers. But for all intents and purposes, the deal is done.
“The toughest thing I’ve ever had to do was build a stadium,” said Johnson, who sits on the NFL’s stadium committee. “It is very, very tough.”
The New York Giants and Jets opened MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in 2010. It was a privately funded project, according to reports.
The league’s owners on Monday voted in favor of a $200 million loan to go toward the Bills stadium project. Roger Goodell noted in a press conference Tuesday a new stadium was necessary. He too was effusive in praising Hochul.
“The credit – I give obviously number one probably to the Governor for her leadership,” Goodell said.
Mark Murphy, the Clarence native who serves as President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers said he was happy for Bills fans and the community when the deal was announced. He was also supportive of Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“The Governor and the County Executive – it’s not easy to dole out public money. But I think in this situation, you realize how much it meant. To lose the Bills would be devastating. When the Braves left, I was devastated,” Murphy said, invoking the NBA franchise which formerly played in Buffalo.
“This really sets the model for small market teams,” Murphy added.
Mark Wilf, the Minnesota Vikings co-owner who is the chairman of the league’s stadium committee, agreed.
“It’s a great model,” Wilf said. “It’s worked in Minneapolis. It worked for us. It worked for other teams around the league. In a small market like Buffalo and Western New York where the fans are so great and passionate, I think it’s a great model for economic development and job growth that a stadium brings.”
Hochul projects the stadium deal will create 10,000 construction jobs. She argued economic and tax impacts from having the team in Western New York will cover the public subsidy and then some. However, economists have argued to News 4 that building a new stadium does not often lead to economic growth.
Political opponents of the Governor, however, have put a different spin on things. Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is challenging Hochul for the Democratic nomination for governor, was quick to attack on Monday. He argued “there was a way to get (the stadium) built without the Governor forcing hard-working New Yorkers to fork over their tax dollars” to the Pegulas.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican candidate for governor, said Monday that Hochul “should have taken a stronger negotiating position” during talks.
But Hochul defended the deal, arguing it makes sense for taxpayers.
“We’re very excited about this,” she said. “It’s a great day for Western New York, and I’m really proud we could negotiate such a good deal for the state and our many, many fans in Western New York, New York State and throughout the country.”
The Bills, State, and County officially entered into a Memo of Understanding to build a new stadium on Tuesday. It indicated some features of the facility may mirror those at Allegiant Stadium – opened in 2020 – and U.S. Bank Stadium – opened in 2016.
The MOU states: “The New Stadium will be located in Orchard Park, NY, and be open-air with a seating capacity of a minimum of 60,000 seats, with finishes, amenities, and concourses comparable to recent NFL stadiums (e.g., Las Vegas and Minnesota), a mixture of general seating, club seating, premium seat and suite offerings as well as standing room only and party decks.”
The MOU, released by the governor’s office Tuesday night, also specifies that the new stadium will be about 1.35 million square feet. Ron Raccuia, Executive Vice President for the Bills, said renderings could be available in “the next couple months”.
“I think what people really aren’t thinking about is what a dramatic difference it’s going to be for their experience at the stadium,” Raccuia said.
Raccuia also comment Tuesday on what may come of the current stadium’s footprint. He noted the facility will need more parking, but added this.
“We want to commemorate the history of Bills football. We’re working on some nice concepts perhaps where the field was,” Raccuia said. “We may do some things that the fans get to enjoy on a daily basis.”
The Bills stadium MOU is below. If this PDF does not load properly on mobile/app, click here.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.