Stadium benefits campaign goes public

Proponents of a community benefits agreement attached to construction of Buffalo Bills stadium make their case.

 A coalition that wants a community benefits agreement attached to public subsidies for a new Buffalo Bills stadium has taken their campaign public, after months of quiet organizing.

The coalition held a press conference Tuesday morning at Johnnie B. Wiley stadium on the city’s East Side — the old Rockpile, the original home of the Bills. The speakers included community activist Karima Amin, Tanvier Peart and Miles Gresham of Partnership for the Public Good, Bridge Rauch of Buffalo Transit Riders United, and Dr. Myron Glick, the founder and CEO of Jericho Road Community Health Center.

The coalition wants a legally binding agreement governing hiring and contracting during construction and for stadium operations once the facility is up and running. They want the public dollars at work — perhaps as much as $1 billion — to stay local, to benefit individuals and firms from economically disadvantaged parts of the city and county, and to favor minority- and women-owned businesses, all at levels higher than currently prescribed by state law.

At the press conference, PPG’s Gresham noted that Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin is a CBA proponent, as Investigative Post reported in one of three stories on the issue published last week. Baskin’s CBA plan includes the Bills committing up to $100 million to fund community health, affordable housing, recreational and educational programs — all things professional sports teams have agreed to do in many other communities.

“[A] rotating loan fund for first-time homebuyers … expanded public transportation … expanded facilities for schools … building new affordable housing. All are within the realm of possibility and should be what we’re asking for, not just the state minimum,” Gresham said.

In addition to reporting on Baskin’s plan, Investigative Post looked at comparable CBAs around the country and the mixed record of previous CBA campaigns in Western New York.

Another proponent of a Bills stadium CBA is State Senator Sean Ryan, whose district includes Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park. The Bills intend a new stadium to be built adjacent to the current facility.

“We would like to see that stadium built with all union labor,” Ryan told Investigative Post last Friday. “But we also want to make sure that all the jobs that occur inside the stadium are high-wage jobs … people cleaning the stadium, security, parking cars … we want to make sure that workforce also comes from the city of Buffalo, and it’s also paid a living wage, and has a chance to unionize if that’s what the workers want.”