Bills stadium talks continue, but county executive & legislature continue differ on level of transparency
Football stadium lease talks continue between the state, county and Buffalo Bills franchise. But how much information about those talks should be public knowledge at this time? There remains a difference in opinion between the county executive and members of the legislature.
The Buffalo Bills’ current lease at Highmark Stadium is set to expire in July 2023, and the pro football franchise is said to be interested in building a new facility in Orchard Park for an estimated $1.4 billion.
The Erie County Legislature recently passed a resolution calling for full transparency of stadium negotiations. Minority Caucus leader Joseph Lorigo is among those demanding that lawmakers and the public receive updates on talks.
“My goal in this entire process is to make sure that Erie County residents get the best possible deal that they can,” he said. “And I want to be sure that I can read the documents, I can understand the documents and I can take a vote, knowing full well that I'm giving my constituents the best possible resolution.”
But Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has stated he won’t talk about the status of negotiations publicly. He, the Office of the New York State Governor and the owners of the Bills, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, are actively involved in negotiations that Poloncarz indicated last week he’d like to complete by the end of this year.
“We're negotiating with the Bills like we're negotiating with the state, and the only way to get a good negotiation done is to do it among the entities that are there,” he said Wednesday during a COVID briefing. “When you have interference from third parties, whether they're legislators in Erie County, Assembly and Senate or just the general public, it doesn't help us get a deal done.”
In Poloncarz’s words Wednesday, the Legislature cannot force him to do anything. Lorigo, though, insists Poloncarz is obligated to provide updates. He cited the Erie County Charter, Section 302k, by which “the county executive has a duty to perform things that are prescribed to him by law, administrative code, county ordinance or legislative resolution.”
“If there were anything that the county executive’s administration thought needed to be said in executive session, we could certainly hear that out and if it was something that we deemed private as well, then we would cross that bridge when we got there,” Lorigo said. “But we're talking about historic expenditures of taxpayer money, and there should be sunlight shone on it, and the people of Erie County deserve to know what's happening.”
“I find it interesting that the legislature and others are treating this differently than every other agreement that we enter into, whether it's a contract that we enter into that could be a $50 million contract,” Poloncarz said Wednesday. “So I would just note that the legislature and its resolution doesn't have the power to force me to do anything.”
Poloncarz has not shared details of a stadium feasibility study commissioned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, explaining that it’s up to the Bills’ owners to release the document publicly. In the meantime, Gov. Kathy Hochul has indicated New York State’s own stadium study could be released to the public within the next few days.