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She’s not ready to ‘spike the football just yet,’ but Hochul confident on Bills stadium deal

<i>Derek Gee/Buffalo News</i><br/>New York has been engaged in regular negotiations with the Bills and Erie County over the last few months to reach a financing agreement for a $1.4 billion facility to be built across the street from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.
Derek Gee/Buffalo News
Derek Gee/Buffalo News
New York has been engaged in regular negotiations with the Bills and Erie County over the last few months to reach a financing agreement for a $1.4 billion facility to be built across the street from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.

By Tim O’Shei

Click here for updates on this story

    BUFFALO, New York (The Buffalo News) — On a day Buffalo Bills fans could use any reason to smile, Gov. Kathy Hochul might be providing it.

During a meeting with the editorial board of The Buffalo News, Hochul sounded a note of optimism over negotiations for a new football stadium that would replace the Bills’ current home. But a day after one of the most heartbreaking losses in the team’s history, the Buffalo-born governor made clear that this game also will not be over until it is over.

“I’m not going to spike the football just yet,” Hochul told The News’ editorial board in a Jan. 24 meeting. “But I feel confident that people know this is an important priority of mine.”

The “people” to whom Hochul refers are New York legislators, who will need to approve the inclusion of stadium funding in the state budget, which is due April 1.

That gives Hochul more than two months to land a deal, and it also coincides with the timeline of the NFL owners, who meet in the last week of March and would need to approve a deal.

“I will be able to work with the legislators to get what I need done through the budget,” Hochul said.

But the negotiation timeline is already three weeks beyond what Bills officials preferred.

The state has been engaged in regular negotiations with the Bills and Erie County over the last few months to reach a financing agreement for a $1.4 billion facility to be built across the street from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park. A team official said in late October that if the key component of an agreement were reached by Dec. 31, then a new stadium could be built and open in time for the 2026 season.

Both Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz affirmed in the fall that reaching the framework of a deal by the end of 2021 was possible. But Hochul also acknowledged another option, and it is the one now being pursued: New York’s budget, which is proposed by the governor and then negotiated with the legislature, must be approved by the state Assembly and Senate before April 1.

“It’ll be done by March 31,” Hochul said. “That’s the date for our budget. We’re in conversations with the Bills and they understand the process. They’re not getting anxious.”

Representatives from Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the management company that oversees the holdings of Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, declined to comment Monday. But they have previously emphasized the urgency of finalizing a deal to replace the existing stadium, which is nearly 49 years old and, in the next five to six years, would likely need expensive repairs, including an overhaul of its upper deck, to remain viable.

The Bills’ lease for Highmark Stadium, which was negotiated a decade ago, expires after next season.

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