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Bills stadium benefit agreement to include $3 million a year for community work

A rendering of the proposed Buffalo Bills stadium to be completed in 2026
Buffalo Bills
A rendering of the proposed Buffalo Bills stadium to be completed in 2026

The proposed community benefit agreement for a new Buffalo Bills stadium will include at least $3 million each year for a range of needs, to be assigned each year by an oversight committee that will help implement the agreement.

A broad summary of the agreement was approved Monday by Erie County Stadium Corp., a state development agency that will ultimately own the new facility and enter into a 30-year lease with the football team.

The summary document approved on Monday outlines the scope of the agreement, including a transportation hub at the stadium, efforts to support mental health and combat food insecurity, and even the need for public art onsite.

The summary includes outreach to various populations, and a commitment to youth programming in the region, possibly with the help of the Buffalo Urban League.

It also mentions “support of anti-violence initiatives (including gun violence) support of mental health initiatives, supporting recycling programs, higher education support, food insecurity initiatives and other programs that support the upward mobility of impoverished and low-income neighborhoods.”

I do believe with having community oversight, I do believe with what we've already seen from the Buffalo Bills in terms of their attention to the Black community during hardship, that we are going to see some reinvestement there."
April Baskin, Chair, Erie County Legislature

Other programs described in the meeting's summary of the plan include:

  • A “multi-faceted program” to include people of color, low-income individuals, veterans, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community in the project.
  • Job training and internship programs, with a 30 percent set-aside for students residing in disadvantaged communities.
  • Support for certified Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises, with a goal of employing 30 percent of the workforce from MWBEs and a goal of having concessionaires purchase 30 percent of their food products from MWBEs.
  • Support for the disabled with a goal of using 6% Service Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises.
  • A commitment to hire workers at a prevailing wage, with a project labor agreement that would be developed with local unions and govern work rules.  Typically, such agreements proscribe terms that result in union-only hiring, although non-union contractors may do work if they sign onto the agreement.
  • Broad support for recycling programs and undefined efforts to reduce the stadium’s carbon footprint.

Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin says they were very close during the negotiations, but there were still a few items she would have wanted to be added in.
"I would have liked to see some neighborhoods specified. We know the hardship that East Buffalo has faced. In the last few years we saw the disproportionate positive COVID case at the top of 2020 in (ZIP code) 14215," Baskin said in a post vote news conference. "We saw the targeted mass shooting this past May, and the blizzard that just hit us all this Christmas with at least 25 Black deaths out of nearly 50.

"I would have liked to see the Black communities more or less specified, but I can understand for legal reasons why that's not necessarily appropriate. But I do believe with having community oversight, I do believe with what we've already seen from the Buffalo Bills in terms of their attention to the Black community during hardship, that we are going to see some reinvestment there."

The final agreement is subject to approval by the Erie County Legislature, and more complete details are likely to be included when that document is reviewed.

In the meantime, Empire State Development and the stadium corporation will hold a public hearing on Feb. 2.

"If we get substantive negative comments, the (stadium corp.) board has to consider those comments before giving final approval," said Steven Gawlik, senior counsel for Empire State Development, adding that most any comment on the agreement outside of "we need a new running back," would be considered enough to warrant a review and re-vote.

The summary also includes an independent advisory board to look at the Buffalo Bills community spending and evaluate it annually based on the community's needs at that time.

“You just have to have a balanced system of bureaucracy over the pot of money, you need a place for people in the community, to be able to have a seat at that table," Baskin said in an earlier interview. "You need a seat for the private sector to have a seat at that table, because they know how to make money and manage it and make more money. And then you need local officials, the people like myself, who were elected by the general public to be the representatives. There has to be a coalition of fairness, to be able to assess the needs annually as they come and an open process for people to be able to apply for the money."

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.