Stadium talks with Bills, state stall

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 12, 2012
Lease negotiations between the Buffalo Bills and state and county officials have stalled, opening the possibility that a one-year interim deal will have to be reached for the team to keep playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium next season. Bills CEO Russ Brandon said Wednesday that there's been no progress in talks for two months, forcing the team to readjust its plans on whether a long-term deal can be reached once the current lease expires July 31. ''They have stalled over the last few months, and hopefully, we'll restart the process and reset the calendar in the near future,'' Brandon told The Associated Press. ''We've been ready to go and have been in discussions with the appropriate parties for many months now. Over the last few months, we've hit somewhat of a cone of silence in the discussions.'' The Buffalo News first reported talks had stalled in its editions Wednesday. The lack of progress in negotiations has already led to one setback. Brandon said the team will miss a deadline this month to apply for an NFL loan assistance program to help offset the $200-$220 million in costs the Bills and taxpayers would share for proposed renovations and upgrades to the 39-year-old stadium. Brandon said the Bills needed to present its proposal for loan assistance at a committee meeting in order to have it placed on the agenda for a league meeting next month. The next chance the Bills will have to do that won't be until March. That could be too late for the Bills to receive loan assistance for next season, putting the team in a position to have to negotiate to extend its current lease by one year. ''It's certainly a possibility,'' Brandon said, referring to settling for a one-year deal. ''We have a lot of work to get done in a short amount of time, and there are many levers to this process.'' A spokesman for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo disputed the Bills' claim that talks have stalled. ''We have hired an outside expert to accelerate the negotiations, and have been in regular contact with the Bills and the county for months,'' Josh Vlasto said. ''The assertion that the state is not committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo is absolutely, 100 percent false.'' In January, Cuomo included spending millions of dollar to retain the Bills among his list of ''critical economic development projects.'' ''The governor's position remains unchanged,'' Vlasto said. Vlasto declined to comment on how much the state is prepared to contribute. And he wouldn't speculate on the possibility of the sides having to settle for a one-year lease. Last month, the state hired Irwin Raij to assist in lease talks. Raij is an attorney who specializes in stadium development projects and lease agreements. He was most recently represented Guggenheim Baseball Management in buying the Los Angeles Dodgers. The state has a large stake in keeping the Bills, because the team is estimated to generate between $15 million and $20 million in state taxes. Erie County also has a stake, because it controls the stadium lease. The parties have already missed one artificial deadline set by county executive Mark Poloncarz, who wanted a tentative deal done by the end of July. Brandon sidestepped a question of how confident he was that a deal would be completed. ''I'm very confident that we have our ducks in the proverbial row to sit down and have meaningful and thoughtful conversations with our stakeholders,'' he said. ''It's our No. 1 initiative. So we're always ready and willing to talk at the drop of a hat. We're ready to go at any point, and have been over a year.'' The Bills are also negotiating with Rogers Communications to renew a five-year series of home games Buffalo plays in Toronto. The current deal runs out this year after the Bills ''host'' the Seattle Seahawks in Canada's largest city and financial capital on Sept. 16. Brandon said he expects to resume discussions with Rogers officials within the next three weeks. He said talks were delayed because the team was focused on training camp, the start of the season and lease negotiations. Brandon said lease talks will have no effect on renewing the deal to play in Toronto. --- Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen, in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.
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