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Majority opposes taxpayer support of Bills stadium fixes

Fifty-six percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say it’s not the responsibility of Erie County and state taxpayers to help pay for more than $200 million in proposed renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium, which opened in 1973.
The Buffalo Bills have been negotiating with Erie County to extend their stadium lease, which expires next July.
Bills CEO Russ Brandon recently voiced confidence that the team would sign a lease extension, keeping the franchise in Buffalo. However, the Buffalo News reported Wednesday that delays in negotiations with state officials have put the lease extension in jeopardy.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz had hoped to sign a long-term extension before training camp this summer. He reportedly wants terms that would keep the Bills in Buffalo even if ownership changes. Wilson, the team’s nearly 94-year-old owner, recently was hospitalized for several days.
A slight majority of respondents said it’s unlikely the Bills franchise still will be in Buffalo five years from now.
Readers also were fairly divided on how seriously Rochester would be affected if the team left. Slightly more than a quarter said not at all, compared with 13 percent who said very, and 62 percent who said somewhat or a little.
Meanwhile, Forbes released its annual list of NFL valuations last week; the Bills ranked 29th of 32 teams. The magazine said the Bills were “arguably the most troubled franchise” in the league, citing poor performance on the field, attendance woes and the cloud over the stadium lease. “Fortunately, the Bills are subsidized $7 million a year by (Erie) county and state taxpayers for stadium operating and capital improvement costs,” Forbes said.
Nearly 800 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Sept. 10 and 11.

Should taxpayers help fund Ralph Wilson Stadium renovations costing $200 million or more?
No: 56%
Yes, but only if the Bills commit to staying in Buffalo if ownership changes: 38%
Yes: 5%

Do you think the Bills franchise still will be in Buffalo five years from now?
No: 51%
Yes: 49%

If the Bills were to leave Buffalo, how serious a blow would it be for Rochester?
Very: 13%
Somewhat: 32%
A little: 30%
Not at all: 26%

Every taxpayer-subsidized stadium has ended up costing more than forecast. Furthermore, why should any entertainment or other facility receive favorable financing based on taxpayers? If the renovations are backed by the taxpayers, it will be just another example of “crony capitalism.”
  —Peter Durant, Nixon Peabody LLP
  I’m sorry, whose name is it on the stadium? I am a huge sports fan, but this nonsense of shifting the burden of stadium renovation (or an entirely new building) to the taxpayer needs to stop. The NFL prints money. Ralph Wilson is a very rich man because of football. He can’t take it with him. Fix your own stadium, Ralph.
  —Vinny Dallo
  There are minimal tangible economic benefits of the Bills to the Rochester business community. If Erie County and Buffalo anticipate sufficient benefits, they may “invest” $200 million in the stadium. But, like all investments, the anticipated return to the investors must exceed the investment.
  —D.A. Kennedy, Rochester
  An NFL franchise is one of the rarest in all of sports and an irreplaceable asset. To lose one would be a disaster of epic proportions. Most hover around $1 billion in value. Losing it takes away a tool for recruiting workers and students of all levels and diminishes the civic value of your community. A devastating blow to Buffalo and New York State.
  —Rich Mileo
  Not sure why the taxpayers need to fund professional sports stadiums. Maybe the players should be asked to give up part of their multimillion-dollar salaries to help pay for the renovation.
  —Doug Lyon, Lyon Capital Management
  It seems to me that the NFL generates plenty of revenue from those consumers that are willing to pay to be entertained by their business. Let the league or the individual teams pay for their own costs, just like other business owners have to do. Government should focus on cost-effectively delivering essential services—let’s get back to the basics.
  —Mike Charland, Webster
  The deal should be conditional on the Bills staying, with penalties and paybacks required if they leave (payback requirement is obvious, but the penalty part is to compensate for the loss of what that money could have done for the area instead).
  —Scott Ireland

For more comments, go to rbjdaily.com.  To participate in the weekly RBJ Snap Poll,   sign up for the Daily Report at staging.rbj.net/dailyreport.

9/14/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

One comment

  1. One thought comes to mind if the Bills think it’s feasible to saddle NYS taxpayers with even more debt and taxes: don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Why not issue shares, get creative and let those who really care for the Bills foot the bill (pun intended). Something like the Green Bay Packers comes to mind.

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