A lack of urgency on Bills stadium

A high-powered group was assembled eight years ago to plan a new venue. It met once. That left the team in the driver's seat, and the Bills took their time before beginning to plan.

There’s been talk lately from the Buffalo Bills and government officials that time is running out to decide on a new stadium for the team. 

It’s worth noting, however, that a committee was put together at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s behest to consider stadium options – eight years ago. 

It only met once. Eight years ago.

The group wasn’t lacking in clout. Notable New Stadium Working Group members included U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, LP Ciminelli Chairman Louis Ciminelli, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Empire State Development Corp. President Kenneth Adams and Kathy Hochul, the current governor, who was a vice president of M and T Bank at the time. The committee included several Bills officials, including President and CEO Russ Brandon and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Littmann. 

Along with political juice, the working group had resources. 

The stadium’s 2013 lease allocated more than $2 million in funding to the committee by 2018 and a total of $11.7 million by 2023, the final year of the agreement.

During the group’s initial meeting on April 1, 2014 – yes, April Fool’s day –  members were briefed on the stadium lease and plans for $130 million in planned renovations to the existing facility. 

Following the meeting, then Brandon, the Bills president at the time, said eight years was not a long time to secure the franchise’s long-term future in Western New York. 

“That’s the reason we’re standing here today,” Brandon said. “This will be a long process. We have a lot of work that needs to be done. But I know our group is up for the task.” 

The stadium group never met again, nor has it played any role in planning for what’s been reported as a new $1.4 billion stadium in Orchard Park.

So, why didn’t the group meet again?

Duffy, Poloncarz and Brandon served as co-chairs.

We asked Duffy, lieutenant governor at the time, why the lack of action. He didn’t get back to us. We couldn’t get an explanation from Polonzarz’s office, either. Brandon is long gone from the Bills.

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Pamm Lent, a spokesperson for Empire State Development, said responsibility for developing stadium plans shifted to the Bills after Ralph Wilson’s estate sold the team to the Pegulas.

Indeed, the Pegulas have since taken the lead on stadium development, having commissioned their own study that examined potential stadium sites in Buffalo, Amherst and Orchard Park. 

The Bills took their time hiring the consultants that produced the report. CAA ICON was retained in November 2018. That was four years after the working group met for its first and only time.

The Bills later shared that study with the state, but Empire State Development refused to release it to the press or public until Investigative Post sued for its release

The state later commissioned its own study, released in November, well after stadium negotiations had started.

All this begs the question: If time was of the essence, why haven’t the Bills and politicians acted with a greater sense of urgency?