Apr 13

2022

The Poloncarz exchange with stadium critic

County executive jousts on Twitter over deal to build the Bills a new home. Meanwhile, he continues to suppress a study of stadium conditions.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz didn’t talk about a new Buffalo Bills stadium while county and state officials were still negotiating terms of an agreement with the team. 

With the $1.4 billion stadium deal now approved as part of the new state budget, Poloncarz had a lot more to say this week. 

Well, he didn’t actually “say” anything.

Instead, he Tweeted . 

On Monday, Poloncarz defended the stadium plan that will cost state and county taxpayers at least $1.13 billion over a 30-year lease term in a series of Twitter exchanges between him and Dr. Ryan Miller, a supporter of the Bills in Buffalo group that believes the project belongs in downtown Buffalo, not Orchard Park. 

In one of his Twitter comments, Poloncarz described the stadium agreement as a “win,” saying the Bills initially wanted the state and county to pick up the full stadium tab with zero contribution from the team itself. 

“My preference was Buffalo but as I’ve said before you never get everything you want in a negotiation. We didn’t. The Pegulas didn’t,” Poloncarz said in one of his Tweets. 

At one point during the Twitter exchange, Poloncarz referenced something Investigative Post has wanted his administration to release, in full, for months – a private engineer’s assessment of the condition of the Bills current home, Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.  

While Miller suggested the county has known about the deteriorating condition of the upper deck at Highmark Stadium “for a decade,” Poloncarz shot back by saying it was only revealed in the report done last year by the county’s private engineering firm, DiDonato Associates

“I know a thing or 2 about this, including info not publicly known, and there are lots of things that are just inaccurate,” Poloncarz Tweeted.

The reason the information is “not publicly known” is that Poloncarz has refused to release it. 

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The county commissioned an engineering study of stadium conditions that was completed last year. Investigative Post requested a copy under the state Freedom of Information Law. The county responded by providing a copy with 170 of the report’s 182 pages redacted

We filed a lawsuit last month seeking the release of an unredacted copy. Shortly thereafter, we were able to review a copy of the full report, but the county was unwilling to release the document. The lawsuit continues.

The study concluded that Highmark Stadium “remains in overall fair to good condition” while identifying problems with the plumbing and electrical systems. It also determined, based on the continued rate of deterioration, that the upper deck would require “rehabilitation” in five to seven years. 

In its analysis of the report, Investigative Post determined that the county’s engineer recommended $43.9 million in work to maintain the stadium, with the largest cost involving $12.1 million for seat replacement. 

In response to questions from Investigative Post earlier this month, Jim Frick, a vice president with DiDonato Associates, said it was anticipated that the upper decks would get another review as part of the next stadium condition assessment, set for five years from now. 

“The upper decks would be studied again in the next study and then an accurate replacement cost would be determined and used to plan their replacement,” Frick said. 

In the meantime, Frick said the upper decks are inspected twice a year with “100 percent hands-on inspection to ensure any developing issues will be found and repaired” to “protect the stadium users.” 

Frick confirmed, based on numbers in the DiDonato report, that Highmark Stadium could be maintained for another five years for less than $50 million, barring the development of any “major issues.” 

“It can be maintained in its current condition at that cost unless a major issue develops within that time,” Frick said. “It does not include any major renovations to the facility.”