Stadium Deal Needs Community Benefits Agreement

With another Bills season now in the rearview mirror, the focus in the coming weeks and months will completely shift from wins and losses to the ongoing stadium negotiations between the Pegulas, Erie County and New York State.

As I’ve mentioned in previous pieces, the argument as to whether there should be any public funding going toward a new stadium in Orchard Park is moot; it’s happening. This discussion now is how much public money will go towards the stadium and what do we get in return for that investment.

The worst-kept secret in sports economics is that constructing shiny multibillion-dollar stadiums rarely delivers significant economic impact to the surrounding community.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t squeeze every possible ounce of public benefit if/when this deal comes to fruition.

In recent weeks, much has been made about a community benefits agreement, or CBA, in which a legally binding set of guidelines should be required as part of any stadium deal in order to maximize community benefit.

I don’t just believe this is a good idea; I believe any stadium deal that comes without a CBA is simply unacceptable.

Benefits could range anywhere from building libraries to new affordable housing, requiring certain construction or hiring practices, a commitment to public transit to the stadium, or a combination of various public benefit measures.

Back in December, I wrote an opinion piece in the Buffalo News, calling for a public transit project that would create a commuter train connecting the stadium to downtown Buffalo.

By including a train, whether it be light rail or electric streetcars from downtown to the stadium, we can make this stadium investment one that brings real economic development to our region. Downtown Buffalo would have surges of people for home games, but most importantly, it would be the catalyst for developing Buffalo’s public transportation network.

The bottom line is that we cannot let the single biggest infrastructure investment in Erie County’s history go by without ensuring a tangible benefit to the community that will ultimately fund a majority of the stadium.

I implore our county and state leaders working through the negotiations to not fall captive to the fear of the team leaving. While we all want the Bills to remain in Western New York for a long time, we should also maintain our pride and dignity in doing so.

It’s offensive for billionaires to believe they can receive a mostly publicly funded stadium without significant investment back into the community, and if that’s the case, our leaders shouldn’t budge.