ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Bills and Erie County agreed in principle Wednesday to a one-year lease extension that would allow the team to keep playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium next season.
County executive Mark Poloncarz announced the agreement after Bills CEO Russ Brandon raised concerns about the lack of progress in negotiations to reach a long-term deal, and with the current lease set to expire July 31. Poloncarz said the agreement was reached after several discussions with team officials, including a conversation with Brandon on Monday.
“Nobody wants to have a gun at their heads thinking if we don’t get it done by the end of the season then what’s going to happen,” Poloncarz said. “By doing an extension, it guarantees the Bills are here for the full 2013 season, and it gives us ample time during the next 18 months or so to continue these negotiations.”
Poloncarz said the state is also on board with a one-year extension, and expects a formal deal to be signed “fairly quick.”
The announcement came after Brandon went public by informing The Buffalo News that negotiations had stalled in a story published Wednesday morning. Brandon then repeated his concerns in an interview with The Associated Press.
“They have stalled over the last few months, and hopefully, we’ll restart the process and reset the calendar in the near future,” Brandon said. “We’ve been ready to go and have been in discussions with the appropriate parties for many months now. Over the last few months, we’ve hit somewhat of a cone of silence in the discussions.”
The lack of progress has already led to one setback.
Brandon said the team will miss a deadline this month to apply for an NFL loan assistance program to help offset the $200-$220 million in costs the Bills and taxpayers would share for proposed renovations and upgrades to the 39-year-old stadium.
Brandon said the Bills needed to present their proposal for loan assistance at a committee meeting to have it placed on the agenda for a league meeting next month. The next chance the Bills will have to do that won’t be until March.
However, a one-year extension fails to address a key concern in securing the franchise’s long-term future in Buffalo. The team’s founder and hall of fame owner Ralph Wilson is 93, and he spent a week in the hospital this month.
Wilson has said he has no intention to leave the team to his family, and instead plans to have his heirs sell the franchise. That opens the possibility of a new owner relocating the franchise, and makes a move less expensive if the team is not tied to a long-term lease.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that Mr. Wilson’s age or health is not a factor because it is,” Poloncarz said. “I’m not going to ignore it. … No. We’re going to continue to move forward. And I’m hopeful that we’re going to get a lease done as soon as possible. I’m just disappointed it’s not going to get done by the end of this year.”
Poloncarz expects the new one-year deal would be similar to the team’s existing lease.
Poloncarz and the state have a meeting set for Sept. 21, but noted the last time the three parties all met together was June 29.
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy disputed claims that negotiations have stalled, saying state representatives have been in constant negotiations with the team and local government for the last several months.