The Buffalo Bills and local and state government officials signed a 10-year stadium lease Friday, virtually assuring the National Football League team will not leave anytime soon.
The agreement also establishes a working group to explore possibilities for a new stadium.
The deal includes a commitment from the Bills to stay in the Buffalo area for at least seven years, and a government commitment to spend $95 million to upgrade Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“The investment, while significant, is modest in contrast to building a new stadium or engaging in a major retrofit, far less than what the interest alone would be on a new stadium over the term,” said Bills CEO Russell Brandon in a statement from the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The team’s contribution brings the total cost for capital improvements to $130 million.
“The Buffalo Bills are a central part of the cultural, economic and of the entire western part of New York State, and the state has never wavered in our commitment to keeping the Bills a thriving part of the Buffalo community,” Cuomo said in the statement.
The Bills legally are committed to staying for at least seven years, regardless of ownership, officials said.
The agreement requires the franchise to pay a $400 million penalty if it breaks the lease before 2020, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said during a news conference. The penalty is $28 million if it leaves in or beyond 2020, Poloncarz said.
State taxpayers will contribute $54 million to renovate the 39-year-old stadium, which opened in 1973, Cuomo’s office said. Erie County will contribute $41 million. The public funding must be approved through the legislative process.
Improvements are to include new technology such as video display boards on the east end of the stadium, the creation of a new plaza on the west end with a team store and enhanced entries to the stadium, and expanded concessions.
The working group to investigate a possible new stadium will include representatives of the Bills, the state and Erie County. The agreement on the working group includes a fund for development and planning, Cuomo’s office said. Erie County and the Erie County Stadium Corp. will continue current levels of support for certain stadium-related expenses, annual capital improvements and working capital.
The stadium lease and other documents will be finalized in the coming weeks and submitted to the NFL for approval, officials said.
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