Mar 21


Smart reads on the Bills stadium

There's a growing call for the state to get smart — and tough — regarding the use of taxpayer money to build a football venue for the Pegulas. Plus: Maryland is taking a different tact than New York in an effort to keep its NFL team.
Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

I’ve got three items related to the Bills stadium situation that I want to share.

The Citizens Budget Commission came out Monday in favor of an idea that’s bound to go nowhere because it makes too much sense: base the state’s investment in a new Bills stadium on the actual benefits it would produce for taxpayers.

Said the commission: 

All economic development spending, whether direct, through tax incentives, or through reduced utility or other costs, should be justified by a rigorous analysis that shows that the public benefits that would accrue will exceed the public’s costs.

New York does not have a good track record of demonstrating that its economic development programs yield benefits exceeding their costs. Furthermore, past research most often has found that professional sports franchises and investments in sports facilities do not have significant, consistent, positive economic impacts. 

While data on the costs of building a new stadium for the Bills and the total economic and fiscal benefits of the franchise being in Buffalo exist, available data do not identify the incremental impacts of a new stadium or of the Bills leaving Buffalo. If a State subsidy is proposed, these impacts should be identified and used in a rigorous, transparent analysis that shows the incremental benefits will exceed the subsidy’s cost.

The report is a smart, comprehensive read. Dive in.

Our own reporting found that stadium and arena development produces little economic benefit, usually about as much as a single department store, one expert told our Mark Scheer.

Of course, Gov. Kathy Hochul wants no part of an objective cost-benefit analysis because it would determine that there’s not anywhere close to a $1 billion benefit to be had — for taxpayers, anyway. The windfall for the Pegulas, however, would be considerable. As though they need the help.

For the governor, and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the only math that matters is the votes they fear they could lose if the Bills don’t get a new stadium and move the franchise.

Then again, I think there is tepid public support for throwing anywhere close to $1 billion at a Bills stadium.

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A second item of note: an editorial from the daily paper in Syracuse that you’ll never read in The Buffalo News, for reasons I wrote about Monday. The headline in the Post-Standard editorial says it all: “NY should drive a hard bargain on Buffalo Bills stadium deal.”

Opined the Post-Standard:

Pegula has threatened to move the team out of Buffalo if he doesn’t get enough public funding for the new stadium. New York should call his bluff. Taxpayers should not be bullied into bailing out the team’s uber-rich owner and the uber-uber-uber-rich National Football League.

A new stadium would make them even richer. Yet study after study shows the public reaps extraordinarily little benefit from stadium construction. This is especially true for a football stadium, which is only used for eight to 10 home games and the occasional concert. 

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Finally, there’s a Washington Post story that details the very different approach Maryland is taking in an effort to keep the Washington Commanders in the state when the team’s lease runs out at FedEx stadium in 2027. It’s pretty much the opposite of what New York and Erie County are doing with the Bills.

Reported The Post:

Newly obtained documents show Prince George’s and the state have developed an expansive vision for a five-mile corridor of economic development to surround a new stadium, similar to Virginia’s “mini-city” approach. The state and county told the team in confidential documents that Prince George’s will help further team president Jason Wright’s goals for a stadium project that also advances social-justice initiatives.

Rather than a football-only stadium, the state wants to use the venue as part of a broader initiative that in some ways reads like a huge community benefits agreement. A more modest version of a CBA has been pitched for here, with no public support so far from Hochul or Poloncarz.  

The Maryland proposal, according to The Post, “describes a ‘Stadium District’ that would not only anchor acres of sports-related development — including a hotel, a convention center, shopping, homes and an on-site sportsbook — but would also funnel billions into a majority-Black jurisdiction that local leaders say has repeatedly been left behind.

“We believe that the prospect of a new stadium represents an opportunity for even greater long-term impacts, serving as an engine for equitable and inclusive economic development and social justice,” the pitch reads.

Of course, there are no Black neighborhoods near the Bills proposed stadium — the Pegulas are demanding Orchard Park — so there’s little to be gained for those living near a new venue. Orchard Park is, after all, one of the whitest, most affluent suburbs in Western New York.

Drive a hard bargain, based on a cost-benefit analysis and envisioned as a centerpiece of development that benefits the community at large?

There are no signs of that sort of thinking from our so-called leaders.