Mar 15


Commitment to diversity on stadium project

State agency that will oversee the new Bills stadium establishes ambitious goals to promote job and business opportunities for women and people of color

State and local officials on Wednesday pledged that construction of the new Buffalo Bills stadium will include opportunities for local businesses owned by women and people of color — and that they’re working with local unions to diversify their ranks ahead of the groundbreaking.

Officials also said the new stadium in Orchard Park will include additional bus service for Bills fans who can’t or don’t want to drive to games.

Those commitments came as the Erie County Stadium Corp. — a subsidiary of the state Empire State Development Corp. — met to approve a framework for the $1.4 billion stadium project and a community benefits agreement. The full text of the documents has yet to be released, but the Stadium Corporation’s vote Wednesday pushes the release of those agreements forward.

The Stadium Corporation first approved a framework of the stadium deal and CBA in late January and re-approved both on Wednesday after hearing from the public. Officials on Wednesday also spoke in more depth about commitments the Bills will make as part of the CBA.

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The CBA will include a goal that the Bills give 30 percent of stadium maintenance and operation work to companies owned by women or people of color. Six percent of maintenance and operation work will go to businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. 

The agreement will include a goal that the Bills source 30 percent of the food and beverages they’ll serve at the stadium from companies owned by women and people of color.

To aid those businesses, the Stadium Corporation has worked with the Bills to break up certain packages of work into chunks, allowing smaller businesses to bid on the contracts. 

“The goal is to make sure we enforce that and I think … everybody is on the same page,” said Bob Duffy, former lieutenant governor and chair of the Stadium Corporation board. “You can’t guarantee something today but we can make sure we monitor and we stay on point and we do everything we can to make sure it’s followed to the letter.”

Consultants hired by the Stadium Corporation — LiRo Engineers and the law firms of Sidley Austin and Hodgson Russ — will police how well the Bills conform to the terms of its deal with the state. A community board will monitor how well the Bills adhere to the CBA.

April Baskin, chair of the Erie County Legislature and a primary negotiator of the CBA, said she and others on the Stadium Corporation’s board have had “long conversations” with Paul Brown, president of both the Buffalo and Niagara Building Trades Council, about diversifying local unions. Baskin and Brown said efforts are underway to get East Side residents and other people of color into the trade unions’ training and apprenticeship pipelines.

“A lot of them do [have diversification efforts] but to be quite frank there’s some historic stigmas when it comes to certain labor unions and the workforce and diversifying especially with East Buffalo,” Baskin said.

Brown said he’s working with community leaders — including Baskin and pastors — to get young people into a pre-apprenticeship program. Brown said people hired will work for eight weeks and then choose a full apprenticeship program to enroll in.

“Whoever they’ve got, we’ll take them,” Brown said. “Show up on time for eight weeks and we’ll put them to work.”

Baskin said the Stadium Corporation and the Bills are “going to be committed to making sure that [minorities] and [women] get as much work as possible.”

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Under the agreement, the Stadium Corporation will own the new facility, across the street from the current stadium, and will be the agency that public funding is funneled through. The state has committed $600 million and Erie County $250 million. 

The Stadium Corporation board on Wednesday voted to hire Steven Ranalli — president of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. — to run the four-person agency, which will primarily function to ensure the Bills meet requirements laid out in the stadium deal. Ranalli and three other staffers will share $447,000 in salaries and $183,000 in benefits. The two law firms and engineering firm will share $1.72 million in fees over the next year.

Baskin said the new stadium will include improved public transit. Stadium designs call for a transportation hub and she’s in conversations with Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to increase bus service.

Baskin said that in addition to the roughly $3 million per year that the Bills will pay into the CBA — money an oversight board will then distribute to various projects — the county, state or Bills may also commit additional funding to public transit.

“[NFTA] is going to bump up how they do transit to the new stadium a great deal, they just have to have a seat at the table,” she said.

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