Tonawanda News — In the weeks since Ralph Wilson’s death I’ve refrained from wading into the largely mindless speculation about the team’s future in Western New York. Finally, with the NFL owners’ meetings taking place this week in Atlanta and developments on the home front there’s enough meat on the bone to take a bite, so here it goes.
The clearest development is one we’ve probably known all along: If the Bills are to remain in Buffalo it will require building a new stadium. It’s likely such a plan will need to be hashed out sooner rather than later. We don’t know all the players preparing formal bids to buy the team. It’s likely Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, fronted by (of all the people) Jon Bon Jovi will be in the running, with a clear intention to buy the team and move it to Toronto.
There are other groups with local ties who will also be in the mix. We’ve heard lots of names tossed around — Sabres owner Terry Pegula, former Sabres owner Tom Golisano, a sire of the Jacobs clan that owns Delaware North, any dark horse we’ve never heard of before.
Whoever winds up buying the Bills will pay a pretty penny, with the franchise worth estimated at somewhere north of $800 million. Considering the possibility of a bidding war, it’s entirely possible they sell for more than $1 billion, a mind-boggling amount of money.
If we’re to keep the Bills here — always assuming the new owners aren’t content to wait out the present lease and sneak out of town in 2019, when the lease has a buyout clause — a new stadium likely to cost as much as the team itself will be our end of the deal.
Taxpayers won’t be asked to foot the entire bill — the Bills and the NFL will pay a share — but we’re going to have to pay a lot of it. Pragmatists will point out it’s a foolhardy investment considering the state of affairs in Western New York. The economy here still lags behind many other places. The Buffalo Public Schools are in disarray and failing badly. New York state has already kicked in $1 billion in cash and economic incentives to help revive the economy. How much is left in the bank for a new waterfront stadium to be used eight or 10 times a year?