BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stressed Wednesday that “there is no blank check” heading the Bills’ way during lease negotiations that include talks of a potential new stadium.
Poloncarz’s comments come after an explosive report in the Buffalo News stated the team asked state and local officials for a $1.1 billion stadium in Orchard Park to be fully funded by taxpayers. The unprecedented public contribution was considered a “non-starter” in Albany, the newspaper wrote.
“A negotiation takes time,” Poloncarz said. “It takes compromise on both sides, and my goal is to get a deal done that’s fair for all parties: Bills fans, to ensure the Bills are playing in Buffalo, but also the citizens of Erie County. There is no blank check. There will hopefully be a compromise in which we all come together one way or another and do what’s best for this community and ensure the integrity of the football team as the Buffalo Bills for decades to come.”
Poloncarz also downplayed the threat of the Bills leaving town, saying “there’s been no gun put to the head” of the county or state during early negotiations with the team. ESPN reported Austin, Texas is a potential destination for relocation that would “pay handsomely,” implying a team-friendly stadium deal could be reached there if one could not be reached in Erie County.
“Some of the reports … were false. Some of it was true,” Poloncarz said. “I don’t go into specifics associated with where we are in a particular negotiation. But it does not help the matter when there’s all these individuals who claim to have knowledge of the matter speaking to individuals, and then there’s reports about it.
“I will note for the record: At no time has the team representative said, ‘If you do not build this and pay for it, we are moving.’ They have not said that,” Poloncarz added. “And I want the public to understand: There’s been no gun put to the head of Erie County and New York state stating, ‘If you do not do this, we are moving.’ And I want people to understand, negotiations are a long process. The last lease … it took us the whole year to get a deal announced, which we announced in December. We didn’t close the deal until May of 2013, at which time it had fallen apart between December and May.”
Poloncarz also said regardless of what happens with Governor Andrew Cuomo, negotiations won’t be affected. He said the Governor hasn’t been part of these conversations. While he said it’s too early to talk about the possibility of Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul becoming governor, he said Hochul wants to ensure the Bills stay in Buffalo. He said it’s fair to say “we’d have a friend in Albany” if she took over the role.
“I do not expect there to be an announcement of a deal anytime soon,” he continued. “There are conversations going on. But I do want to put out for the record, because there’s been all kind of speculation … there was no statement by the Bills, ‘We’re going to Austin.’ There was no statement by the Bills saying, ‘We’re going to San Antonio.’ There was no statement by the Bills saying, ‘If you do not give us what we want, we’re leaving town.’ And I will leave it at that. Because it does not help when you have all this speculation going on and I read a story … and reading parts of it, I go, ‘I know that’s not true.’ Because I’ve been in the meetings.”
The Bills’ lease with Erie County runs through July 2023. The Orchard Park facility, now known as Highmark Stadium, was originally opened in 1973 and is among the oldest stadiums in the league, though it has received $130 million in renovations over the past decade. Additionally, owners Terry and Kim Pegula financed an $18 million overhaul of the team’s practice facility and weight room in 2018.
* * *
Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find more of his work here.