With negotiations over a long-term lease at a standstill, the Bills and Erie County, N.Y. agreed to a one-year extension to keep the team in Ralph Wilson Stadium and give them time to find a long-term solution.
The current lease was set to expire next July 31, but now they are locked in for 2013 while discussions continue on a permanent solution.
“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,” County executive Mark Poloncarz told the Associated Press. “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.”
The announcement came after Bills CEO Russ Brandon went public with his frustrations.
“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.”
Because of the delays, the Bills aren’t going to be able to get in front of the league’s stadium committee meeting next week, which would have been a first step toward a G4 loan from the league to help offset the $200 million to $220 million for renovations. Now, putting in for those funds is probably on hold until next spring.
Of course, the extension may sound like a relief, but the reality is the long-term future of the Bills is very much in flux.
Owner Ralph Wilson, 93, has said he will instruct his heirs to sell the team rather than keep it in the family after his death.
“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.”
Truth be told, the lack of a long-term deal only makes it easier if a new set of owners wants to move the team, making Bills fans in Western New York the losers in a waiting game unless a local buyer steps up.