Friday, December 21, 2012

At first glance, new Bills stadium lease appears fair to team and taxpayers



                The Buffalo Bills reportedly have reached an agreement with the state and county that will keep the team in Orchard Park for another decade. The 10-year deal calls for $130 million in stadium renovations, with the team footing $35 million of the cost and the taxpayers of the county and state the rest of the bill. A source says that any owner wishing to relocate the franchise would have to pay a $400-million fee to Erie County and New York state. That’s roughly half of what the franchise is valued at.

                The agreement also contains a one-time out clause, meaning the ownership group that succeeds 94-year-old Ralph Wilson would be able to move the team after seven years without having to pay the relocation penalty. The clause apparently is good only after that seventh year for just one year. After that, the relocation fee kicks back in.

                I believe this is a fair deal because it locks the Bills in for at least seven more years. My big concern during these negotiations, and one clearly shared by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Erie County officials, was that the taxpayers would renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium then be stuck with a white elephant a few years down the road if the team were allowed to move.

                This hefty relocation fee precludes that from happening, at least until 2020, when hopefully the franchise will be on firmer ground.

                Any owner who succeeds Wilson – who has said the team will go to the highest bidder after his death – will not want to shell out close to a half-a-billion dollars to move the team.

                The Ralph clearly needs renovation. The concourses are way too narrow, there aren’t enough rest rooms and concession stands and there needs to be better pedestrian flow into and out of the stadium. These improvements are necessary to make for a better fan experience.

                The sight lines at the stadium are among the best in the NFL, so the seating bowl will remain as is. And the “bones” or foundation and structure of the edifice remain strong 40 years later.

                Interestingly, the lead architect on the renovation project is Scott Radecic, the former Bills linebacker who studied architectural engineering at Penn State. I recently interviewed Scott for a “Where are they now?” freelance feature, and he said the renovations to the stadium wouldn’t result in “a new Ralph, but 
a noticeably better Ralph.”

                Again, my initial reaction is a positive one. The stadium needed to be fixed, but the taxpayers needed to be protected. And from the sounds of things, both sides will win in this deal.

                Now, if the team could just complete its renovation project with its roster . . .

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