By CAROLYN THOMPSON, Associated Press
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced the appointment of a sports expert to advise the state in its efforts to secure the Buffalo Bills' future in western New York.
Sen. Charles Schumer, meantime, said he has asked the National Football League for changes in a stadium renovation loan program that he said would advance the same goal.
The moves come as negotiations are under way between the Bills and Erie County and New York state to extend the Bills' lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Buffalo. The current deal expires in July 2013.
The talks include how to divide the costs of proposed renovations to the 40-year-old facility, estimated at upwards of $200 million to $220 million. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has said the Bills and the NFL have been asked to contribute an undisclosed share.
At a news conference at the stadium Wednesday, Schumer, D-N.Y., said he has spoken with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his idea that a "due on sale" clause in the NFL's G-4 loan program be waived for teams that have had the same owner for at least 20 years. The clause requires owners to fully repay the loans if the team is sold.
Although the Bills' 93-year-old owner Ralph Wilson has maintained that he has no intention of selling the team during his lifetime, he has indicated his heirs would sell the team, meaning any G-4 loan the Bills might receive for stadium upgrades would likely have to be repaid before the end of 18- to 20-year term of the loan.
"It could end up offering very little benefit to the Bills," Schumer said.
The G-4 program provides matching dollars from a league loan pool for investments teams make in their stadiums.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, also in western New York Wednesday to deliver a lecture, said he had discussed Schumer's idea with the senator but stopped short of endorsing it outright.
"We spoke briefly about some ideas that he had," Goodell said, "and I said that we'll continue to work with him and see how they work.
"I think everybody wants the Bills to be here in western New York and Buffalo. They want to do it in a successful way, and their lease is up so it's important to get this done and to have a long-term lease that will address the short-term stadium issues and the long-term stadium issues."
The Bills did not immediately respond to questions about whether the team is interested in pursuing a G-4 loan or has been deterred by the repayment upon sale provision.
Cuomo, meanwhile, announced the hiring of Irwin Raij, a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP and co-chair of the Sports Industry Team, who specializes in stadium development projects and lease agreements.
"New York state is committed to doing all we can to keep the Bills a part of the Buffalo community, while also protecting taxpayer dollars and seeing that the team can thrive in western New York for years to come," Cuomo said.
Raij, who led the team that represented Guggenheim Baseball Management in the recent acquisition of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he would leverage his experience to find a way to keep the Bills from leaving town.
"I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate closely with the state of New York on an issue that carries both emotional and economic implications among many residents," Raij said in a statement.
The state has a large stake in keeping the Bills, because the team is estimated to generate between $15 million and $20 million in state taxes.