by Legislator April Baskin
Imagine if the Buffalo Bills hadn’t been removed from playing their exciting games on the corner of Jefferson and Best Streets, the previous War Memorial Stadium, what type of community investment would we have seen if the Bills had stayed in that location? The benefits to the community would be much different than what we currently have in present day. The deal for a new stadium for our beloved Buffalo Bills has been the talk of the town over the last week. There have been many opinions expressed on this deal from the cost of the stadium, to its location, and most importantly, how much public money will be included in the deal. I want to expand on one of the most exciting aspects of the deal, the Community Benefits Agreement (“CBA”). The CBA will be negotiated on behalf of the residents of Buffalo and Erie County in relation to the proposed new Bills stadium deal.
A CBA is a way for the communities impacted by large scale economic development projects to be provided specific amenities and/or mitigations to the community or neighborhood in return for the large public investment the development project is receiving. These agreements have become the standard norm nationwide on new stadium builds. The last stadium deal in Erie County was negotiated back in 2013. Mark Poloncarz was County Executive and Hon. Betty Jean Grant served as Chair of the Legislature back then, and the final deal ended with a unanimous vote for a lease extension, keeping the Bills in Buffalo until 2023 with a $130 million commitment from Erie County in stadium upgrades. This time around, a requirement for a CBA is in the new proposed 2023 lease. Erie County Executive Poloncarz has successfully negotiated the county’s share of the deal to include a 30-year commitment of the Bills remaining in Buffalo, a locked county financial investment of $250 million dollars into new stadium construction ( this amounts to 18% of the total estimated stadium construction cost), transfer of the ownership of the stadium to the state of New York; removal of the county’s cost burden of game day expenses, stadium upkeep and lawsuits, and most importantly – requiring a separately negotiated CBA (with specific language noting the beneficiaries being underserved communities) as part of the memorandum of understanding between Erie County, New York State, and the Buffalo Bills.
Many residents of Buffalo stepped up with an overwhelming conviction advocating for the new stadium to be located in the City of Buffalo when the County Legislature held our public hearings last December. A similar public hearing was hosted by Buffalo Common Council members, and some Common Council members saw the economic value of a downtown football stadium and advocated passionately for city location on behalf of their constituents. The Common Council’s public hearing was met with the same public outcry as many wanted a Buffalo-based stadium. These sentiments were echoed by notable community organizations, such as the “Bills in Buffalo” coalition, and 20-year downtown Buffalo stadium advocate and local sports analyst Pat “The Mighty O’Ba” Freeman.
Upon meeting with advocates and public hearings, I too became a voice in the chorus of local residents demanding a downtown location for the proposed new stadium, but knew that wherever those who were making the location decision that ultimately decided where the new stadium would be, we the people of Buffalo and Erie County would need to get tangible benefits from this deal. When I say we I mean: we; the underserved, we; the historically marginalized, we; the working class, we; the mothers, fathers, and educators of children who deserve safe neighborhoods and a promising future. We; the descendants of redlining, victims of gentrification, and nationwide government led systems organized to keep specific demographics poor, uneducated, incarcerated and mentally ill need to benefit from this deal.
After my preview of the Bills’ stadium feasibility study presented the downtown location would possibly displace Old First Ward residents, close down traffic on the I-190 for years and ultimately increase the building costs by a billion dollars, I understood those making the location decisions could lean in a different direction.
I said to myself regardless of where those making the decision on location decide to place the stadium, the people of Buffalo and Erie County must see a gain within their personal communities from this generational investment in our region.
Rather than just talking about a CBA, I made the decision to turn the concept into a proposal and designed the “Invest Well Erie.” The title is a spinoff of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s 2019 rollout of “Live Well Erie” which is his data driven initiative including a collaborative approach to human services that provides county residents with access to resources that can improve their quality of life. My spin-off “Invest Well Erie” further dissected the County Executive’s concept by stating – In order to truly achieve the vision of Live Well Erie, Erie County must make bold financial investments into youth engagement, the economic advancement of marginalized communities and countywide beautification. In order to position Erie County as an attractive community for growth and investment, we must explore every opportunity to eliminate poverty, as poverty costs hundreds of millions annually to manage, which weakens our profile in the global marketplace. I believe that for every public dollar that Erie County spends, another dollar must be invested into the upward mobility of our neighborhoods. This can and should begin with a strong CBA attached to the new stadium lease.