The Buffalo Bills signed a stadium lease that answered some questions about the team's future in Western New York but opened up several others.
The team, Erie County and New York State finalized a 10-year lease to keep the Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The first seven years of the lease would require a $400 million relocation fee be paid by anyone wanting to move the team. The Bills would have a one-time option after the seventh season to buy out the remaining three years for $28,363,500. If the Bills miss the deadline in 2020 to be determined, the $400 million fee would take effect again for the balance of the lease term.
The lease calls for $130 million in stadium upgrades. The team will pick up $35 million of that cost, with the state paying $54 million and the county $41 million. Those upgrades will include new video displays, a new west end plaza and team store, and renovated concessions stands.
Friday's announcement caps off nearly a year's worth of talks on the lease, which was set to expire this coming July.
"From day one, a top priority of my administration has been to get the right lease negotiated for state and local taxpayers, the Bills and their fans. Today I am proud to say we have accomplished that goal," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "Everyone understood the economic realities facing our community, and that’s why we have developed a more affordable capital improvements plan … The Bills are not just a driver of our regional and bi-national economy, but are critical to the framework of our community."
A term of the lease also calls for a New Stadium Working Group to be organized to "explore the potential for the construction of a new stadium on the existing stadium land or at another location." The group – comprised of representatives from the county, state, team and NFL – can, after the sixth year of the lease, apply half of the annual renovation payment to a fund to be used to study or build a new stadium.
Bills CEO Russ Brandon indicated this is a main reason the team negotiated the one-time option. He didn't directly address why it was included or whether the lease is part of the team's plans for after the death of 94-year-old owner Ralph Wilson, but he noted the team could already have left, as the buyout this year was only $2 million:
"We are in Buffalo, Western New York. We are committed to this region. Mr. Wilson's belief in this region 50 years ago is the same as it is today."
Other lease points include:
- The Bills will pay $800,000 per year rent. They had played there rent-free.
- The county and state will share annual payments for working capital, operating expenses and gameday expenses. These payments will start at a combined $7.7 million per year.
- The Bills still have the naming rights to the stadium.
- The lease allows for an annual game i Toronto, as well as one other international game over 10 years
The deal does shore up the temporary future of the franchise. But a potential suitor could swoop in after year seven and swipe the team. But former Bills running back Thurman Thomas indicated via Twitter the seven-year minimum gives potential investors like himself and Jim Kelly time to secure a plan:
"The lease deal gives #12 and I more time to get things #Right #PositiveThoughts."
At 40 years old, Ralph Wilson Stadium is the fourth-oldest venue in the NFL. Poloncarz indicated he'd prefer a downtown stadium but a new venue anywhere would be preferable to show the eventual new owners the region's commitment to keeping the team in Western New York.
Tags: Buffalo, Buffalo Bills, Football, Jim Kelly, NFL, Thurman Thomas
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