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Most at public hearing favor downtown site for new football stadium

Highmark Stadium
Buffalo Bills
Most speakers during a public hearing Monday evening favored a new stadium in downtown Buffalo.

The Erie County Legislature is dedicating three evenings to where to put a football stadium for the Buffalo Bills, even though the legislature and public have almost no say in the backroom dealings over a site and how to pay for it.

It's been a major issue each time a lease with the football team is ready to expire. The current lease expires after the end of next season.

Team owners Kim and Terry Pegula are negotiating with Albany about a site, a lease and who pays the costs. The county legislature will only get to vote on the deal and potentially on future spending in the lease, as it is now.

Wayne Taneff was among the speakers during a public hearing Monday evening.

"I'm in favor of the Orchard Park stadium," Taneff said. "All the years of the infrastructure road plans of getting traffic in and out, I can't see downtown really handling 75 or 80,000 people. The traffic, even for a Sabres game, it's hard to get out of there."

However, most of those who participated last night favor a downtown site, although there is now definite site, just possibilities.

Former Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant tossed out the often-discussed Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Perry Project site, essentially proposing that current residents be paid to move out.

"Give them — because most of them are Section 8 or some kind of housing assistance program — why not take that Section 8 and other housing assistance program and work with Habitant for Humanity to build them single family homes that they can, Number One, buy; Number Two, own; and Number Three, pass on to their heirs when they pass on?"

Environmental activist Lynda Schneekloth opposes any new stadium.

"Why are we even talking about spending multi-billion dollars when we already have a functioning stadium that needs renovation?" Schneekloth said. "Why has it been framed as downtown versus Orchard Park? To district us from the real question? So that the NFL can make more money?"

Several participants asked legislators for copies of the current lease, to see what was agreed to for this stadium.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has said she wants a plan and a deal before she presents her budget in mid-January. A study prepared for Albany estimated the cost of renovating the current stadium isn't a whole lot less than building a new one, and building downtown would cost hundred of millions of dollars more.

While there is one private stadium proposal out there, it's generally assumed the state will pay for most of the project, probably in excess of $1 billion. There is actually some opposition to taxpayers paying for this stadium, as they paid for the last and its major upgrades. The opposition suggests team owners pick up the tab.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.