Apr 11


Yet another Bills stadium disappointment

Community benefits agreement represents another negotiating failure by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. There's been plenty of them.
Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

Last year, Investigative Post reported on community benefit agreements involving the construction of big league stadiums and arenas. CBAs involve teams and/or the developers of their venues pledging money for community projects in exchange for the tax dollars they receive to help finance their facilities.

The process used here to negotiate a CBA for the Bills stadium was unusual. Instead of the Bills negotiating with members of the community, the bargaining was restricted to politicians and their staffs. 

Taking it a step further, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz insisted that negotiators sign non-disclosure agreements, which forbade not only any public discussion, but private conversations with interested parties. You know, the community.

This unusual process has resulted in an unusual CBA.

Our J. Dale Shoemaker shared the CBA, released last week, with several national experts who essentially said the agreement comes up short Get your tickets to our upcoming event: Labor’s opportunities  challenges.

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It’s not all bad, mind you. There’s good stuff in there about affirmative action employment and contracting goals. There’s also some feel-good provisions for things like public art and college internships. For the most part, nothing that costs the Bills any money.

However, there’s precious little meat on the bones when it comes to the most important component: how to spend the $3 million a year the Bills have pledged over the 30-year life of the lease. The CBA essentially kicks the can down the road, leaving those decisions to an oversight committee that will have no budget or staff, aside from whatever the county is willing to provide.

Compare that with the Erie County Stadium Corp., a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp. which is charged with overseeing construction of the stadium. It’s got a budget of $3 million a year for staff, lawyers and engineers.

John Goldstein, perhaps the nation’s leading expert, told us CBAs should specify the work to be funded, be they programs or capital projects; establish criteria to measure compliance; and provide mechanisms for accountability. 

Our CBA has nothing of the sort, aside from a provision for taking the team to court and possibly evicting them from the stadium for non-compliance. Like that’s going to happen.

The CBA’s shortcomings haven’t stopped Poloncarz from proclaiming it the best ever negotiated with an NFL team. That’s nonsense. 

Rather, it represents the latest in a long list of capitulations by him and Gov. Kathy Hochul. There’s the stadium’s location and design and, of course, the outsized public subsidy. 

Adding insult to injury, other stadium documents released last week revealed that fans attending games will not only pay sales tax on tickets, concessions, merchandise and parking, but a surcharge of up to 6 percent to cover the county’s share of stadium upkeep. That’s on top of $280 million in state funds for the same purpose. 

It isn’t enough for taxpayers to build Terry Pegula a stadium, they’ll also maintain it, as well.

Investigative Post

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