Former state officials who worked under ex-Gov. Cuomo Andrew Cuomo sacked successor Kathy Hochul for agreeing to give the owners of the Buffalo Bills $600 million in taxpayer funds to build a new stadium that won’t even be located in New York’s second largest city.
A state official familiar with preliminary discussions for a new Bills’ stadium said Cuomo wanted it built in the City of Buffalo as part of urban renewal instead of suburban Orchard Park, where the current stadium is located.
“We would not have done a deal with a stadium in the suburbs. It had to be in downtown Buffalo,” said a former Cuomo official familiar with the discussions.
The source said building a new Bills’ stadium in the city would have justified the state paying for infrastructure costs — but delivering $600 million in state taxpayer dollars plus another $250 million from the county for Bills’ owners to build its facility in the suburbs was a goal post too far.
“We would have never given that much. The deal doesn’t make any sense,” said the former state official, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter.
“I believe in civic pride. But $600 million is far too high a price to pay for civic pride,” the Cuomo insider said. “That’s too big a number. It’s not generating any economic activity.”
But a spokesman for the owner of the Bills, Pegula Sports Entertainment, hit the former state officials with a penalty flag for unnecessary roughness against Hochul and the Bills.
“This is 100% not true. Never brought up. This was never brought up [by Cuomo],” Pegula Sports Entertainment spokesman Jim Wilkinson said, when asked by The Post if Cuomo insisted on a downtown Buffalo stadium.
An independent analysis commissioned by Empire State Development concluded that a stadium in downtown Buffalo would have cost up to $450 million more than the new Orchard Park Stadium — and up to 3,000 residents and businesses would have been displaced.
During a debate last year, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the cost of a city stadium appeared to be cost prohibitive and he wasn’t campaigning for the Bills to relocate there.
But other experts who study stadium grants agreed with the criticism.
“I could justify the government funding if they were revitalizing the city of Buffalo,” University of Michigan sports management professor Mark Rosentraub told The Post.
Rosentraub worked on the financing of the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium.
“Had this been in Downtown Buffalo I would have been quite interested in defending it. I’m just disappointed it is not,” he said, adding that this seems like a giveaway.
The new $1.1 billion UBS Islanders hockey arena next to Belmont Park in Elmont was privately funded, although the state did front $74 million for a new LIRR station in Elmont near the arena.
Other Albany insiders said it was rich for Cuomo’s camp to claim the high road on the stadium — pointing to his Buffalo Billion economic bid-rigging and corruption scandal that led to convictions of his closest confidante, Joe Percoco and chief economic development official, Alain Kaloyeros .
Cuomo’s upstate economic development program was widely considered a bust.
Hochul defended the stadium deal as sound.
“I went into these negotiations trying to answer three questions — how long can we keep
the Bills in Buffalo, how can we make sure this project benefits the hard-working men and women of Western New York and how can we get the best deal for taxpayers?” Hochul said on Monday.
“I’m pleased that after months of negotiations, we’ve come out with the best answers possible – the Bills will stay in Buffalo for another 30 years, the project will create 10,000 union jobs and New Yorkers can rest assured that their investment will be recouped by the
economic activity the team generates.”
She said the Bills franchise is a proven economic driver for the Buffalo region and the state. The Bills generate $27 million annually in direct income, sales and use taxes for New York State, Erie County and Buffalo. Revenues will generate more than $1.6 billion over the
30-year lease period.
Moreover, fans who attend games from across New York, the U. and Canada and spend money locally that would not otherwise be spent in the region, resulting in $385 million annually in economic activity.
One of Hochul’s Democratic primary opponents, Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi, ripped the Bills’ stadium deal as a taxpayer ripoff.
Suozzi, complaining of New York’s high taxes and rising crime said, “And what is the governor doing? She’s proposing the most lucrative stadium deal in the history of the NFL — four days before the state budget is due after secretive negotiations and is expecting it to be rammed through at the last minute as part of backroom deals.
“It’s no wonder our state is in so much trouble. It’s no wonder we have the highest taxes in America, the worst business climate in America, people struggling to pay their utility bills and their tax bills, a crime crisis that’s out of control. And this is a pattern and practice of this governor.”
Suozzi said there should be public hearings on the stadium deal.
— Additional reporting by Maggie Hicks