- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2022

State and local taxpayers in New York will pick up $850 million of the $1.4 billion tab for construction of the Buffalo Bills‘ new home in a deal believed to represent the largest commitment of public funds to a stadium project in NFL history.

The details were revealed at the start of this year’s annual NFL owners meetings and set the stage for the Washington Commanders to possibly be the next team in line to secure a new home.

The state of New York will commit $600 million to the project while Erie County is slated to contribute $250 million. The remainder would be financed by the team ($350 million) and a loan from the NFL ($200 million). 

By comparison, Virginia lawmakers have proposed to contribute $350 million toward a new stadium for the Commanders — though that price tag is significantly down from the $1 billion that was originally floated. State officials have passed separate bills to establish a stadium authority in Virginia and are working to hammer out the differences to form one piece of legislation. The state’s assembly is scheduled to reconvene for a special session April 4. 

The Commanders’ pursuit of a new stadium also differs from Buffalo in the sense that the team has three localities it could wind up in. Washington’s current stadium, FedEx Field, resides in Landover, Maryland, and the state is working on a deal that would keep the team in the area by committing hundreds of millions toward the project. District Mayor Muriel Bowser has also stated her desire for the Commanders to return to the city, but faces numerous obstacles in doing so as the land eyed for the project is owned by the federal government. 

The Bills will remain in Orchard Park, the city where Highmark Stadium is located. The agreement still needs formal approval, though New York officials and the Bills announced the deal Monday — four days before the state’s budget is due. 

The Bills envision the project to be completed by 2026 if construction begins this year. The nearly four-year estimate could provide a similar timeline for the Commanders’ next stadium. If that’s the case, Washington would need to announce a new deal by 2023 at the earliest since its lease at FedEx Field is set to expire in 2027.

Buffalo’s stadium will reportedly hold just more than 60,000 fans, roughly 10,000 fewer than its current home. It also plans to be an open-air setup — something also notably different from what Commanders officials have envisioned for their stadium.

Based on planning documents that were leaked to multiple outlets, the Commanders plan on having their next stadium feature a dome. The stadium would also be part of a proposed large-scale entertainment complex around the area — creating a “mini-city,” Virginia state Sen. Richard Saslaw said last month. 

The proposed complex would raise the total cost of the project to an estimated $3 billion. The Bills, by contrast, are just building a football stadium and appear to have no plans to build out the area around it. 

 The NFL is expected to approve the Bills’ new stadium this week at the league’s meetings. As part of the agreement, the league will issue a $200 million loan to help complete the project. 

“We took another step today to solidify our collective goal of constructing a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park,” Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula said. “We are grateful for the time, efforts and unwavering commitment made by Governor (Kathy) Hochul and her team throughout this process. While there are more hurdles to clear before getting to the finish line, we feel our public-private partnership between New York State, Erie County … and the National Football League will get us there.”

The Bills may be closer to the finish line, but the Commanders’ race is still underway. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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