Pegula Sports and Entertainment said last week that it has received a revised version of its privately funded stadium study, which set out to examine whether a new facility will be needed for the Bills or whether renovations to the current stadium would be sufficient.
However, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz reminded fans Tuesday that just because this step of the process is done does not mean any plans or agreements are imminent.
Erie County hasn’t even seen the study yet, he said.
“I wanted to clear up the air,” Poloncarz said when asked about the study during a COVID-19 news conference, “because some people are asking me, ‘What does the report say?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know’ because I haven’t seen it, and no one in Erie County government has seen it, and no one to my knowledge in New York state has seen it. We are just starting the process that will probably take some time.”
The Bills’ lease with Erie County runs through July 2023. The Orchard Park facility — now known as Highmark Stadium — was originally opened in 1973 and is among the oldest stadiums in the league, though it has received $130 million in renovations over the past decade. Additionally, owners Terry and Kim Pegula financed an $18 million overhaul of the team’s practice facility and weight room in 2018.
PSE Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia said last week that PSE’s study was revised over the last 12-18 months “because of COVID, because of some changing economics throughout the country and the league.”
Poloncarz, who was also involved in negotiating the team’s 2013 lease, said he is in regular communication with the team.
“I talk with a number of members of the Bills’ staff, either talking or texting, a few times a week and we have not set up a date to meet yet, they have not presented any report to us,” Poloncarz said. “When that time comes, (they’ll) present us with a report.”
Poloncarz pointed out that stadium discussions could be viewed as ahead of schedule, based on when negotiations started the last time the lease was close to expiring.
“The lease expires in 2023. It’s 2021,” Poloncarz said. “So, we’re pretty much on the same timeline as I was when the lease expired in 2013 and we picked up negotiations in 2012 — so, actually, we’re ahead of where we were a few years ago. These are not discussions that are going to be resolved overnight. For those who think a decision has been made already, no decision has been made. When we reach an agreement, we’ll announce that to the public, but I do anticipate it’s going to take some time to get to that point.
“I know we’ve got partners in the Pegulas and their team, we’ve got partners in New York state, and it’s going to be a long process. It’s not going to happen overnight. As I said, and you’ll remember, in 2012 and 2013 we discussed where we were negotiating and that discussions are ongoing but we would not go into the details and that’s the same rule we’re going to apply now, other than I did want to answer your question. Because people seem to think we have already begun negotiations and we have received documents from them and the answer is no we have not.”
Both the Pegulas and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, a Jamestown native, have opined on the stadium issue in recent years. “We need to do something that’s Buffalo style,” Terry Pegula said in March 2019, adding, “I think the answer is probably a scaled-down version of some of these palaces that are being built around the country.”
Kim Pegula indicated in May 2018 it was difficult to envision constructing a state-of-the-art facility, which would likely come with a price tag well over $1 billion. “I don’t even know if we can get there,” she said. “I know fans in Buffalo don’t want higher ticket prices, they don’t want (personal seat licenses). The state doesn’t want to give you any money, the city doesn’t … we don’t have a billion-and-a-half dollars sitting around. We used it to buy the team.”
Goodell, who answers to the NFL’s 32 ownership groups, has consistently pushed for new stadiums. He expressed his preference for a new stadium in Buffalo as recently as June 2019, though he did mention in January 2020 that renovations could be an option.
“A stadium that is going to be competitive with other stadiums around the league is going to be important,” Goodell said ahead of Super Bowl LIV in 2020. “I think everyone is committed to that, whether it’s a new significant renovation or a completely different facility in a new place.”
Poloncarz is on the record for continuing to renovate the existing stadium.
“We know if we can extend the lifespan of that stadium for another 25 years, and if it worked for our market, why would we not do that?” he said in 2019.