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Bills-stadium_jpg-300x199Roger Goodell thinks the Bills need a new stadium to remain viable in Western New York. Experts say there’s little chance of the team moving before 2022, thanks to the stadium lease that’s costing taxpayers $95 million in renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium. But after 2020, all bets are off – unless the Bills have a new, taxpayer-financed home.

If you agree the Bills need a new stadium – and even the Erie County Executive is skeptical – why would you build one in Erie County’s suburbs? How would that be so different from the Bills current home? People would drive in and drive out. You wouldn’t keep them around for any spillover development.

But check out this plan for a suburban Bills stadium. Scott Congel would like it to be located on his ailing plaza property in West Seneca. He has a grand $700 million redevelopment proposal for the site. The Buffalo News reports:

(Congel) unveiled plans for a mixed-use, public-private mega-project with two hotels, residential apartments, office buildings, retail, a theater, community facilities featuring twin hockey rinks and vast underground parking.

Congel wants a 30-year payment-in-lieu of taxes agreement for his plan. (YES, IT’S MEDLEY CENTRE ALL OVER AGAIN!) Here’s what Erie County Executive Mark Polocarz tweeted:

Here’s where the Bills come in. Tom Golisano is interested in buying the team and is reportedly in talks with Congel about putting a stadium on that plaza property. Not only would taxpayers help Congel build his fantastical development, they would also fork over at least several hundred million dollars for a Bills stadium at the site.

Meanwhile, Erie County already owns land right next to Ralph Wilson Stadium where a stadium could be built. If you’re going to build a suburban stadium, why not just keep it Orchard Park? Why not…just keep Ralph Wilson Stadium?

Right. WE NEED A NEW STADIUM OR THE BILLS WILL LEAVE WESTERN NEW YORK FOREVER!

Poloncarz tweeted there should be no deal for Congel unless it’s linked to “new net economic wealth for the region.” That same standard should applied to a new stadium. Economists agree stadiums don’t pay for themselves and having an NFL franchise doesn’t pay, either.

Meanwhile in Rochester, the LPGA is saying adios. It’s sad to lose such a great tradition. But we didn’t see politicians lining up to build new golf courses or throw money at the organization. Ladies golf is far inferior to men’s football in our culture. The LPGA is a multi-million dollar organization. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar organization. But which one demands your tax dollars to stick around?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The FBI may be looking into Phase One of the RCSD’s Facilities Modernization Program. Meanwhile, Phase Two is in limbo.

– Being lieutenant governor doesn’t usually lead to great things.

– CEOs continue to get their personal airfare paid by companies.

– This is dumb. A Long Island school banned backpacks and lockers to keep kids safe.

The dandelions and the rats at East High School.

Little free libraries popping up around Rochester.

Carrier DomeThe City of Syracuse can’t afford to fix water mains that break all the time, but Syracuse University would like taxpayers to help pay for a $495 million, 44,000-seat retractable roof stadium.

Never mind that SU has an endowment of nearly $1 billion. Never mind that SU doesn’t pay property taxes, though it agreed to fork over at least some cash to its cash-strapped host.  Never mind that the basketball team alone brings in about $25 million in revenue and will get more from the ACC TV contract. Never mind that there’s no plan to reuse the iconic Carrier Dome. Never mind that stadiums are not true economic development.

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center calls the idea of a new SU stadium a “fantasy” and unfair to taxpayers. He also notes the Carrier Dome is a big success:

The dome, and SU’s Division I teams, draw tens of thousands regularly, even on wintry nights.

“But it hasn’t fixed Syracuse’s problems,” he said, “which is kind of proof in itself.”

The mayor wisely didn’t agree to a plan hatched by the governor and county executive to award $200 million in state money to the project. She is forming a task force to look into the issue.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A Rochester case will test shaken baby science used in courts.

– A state audit of a Rochester charter school found favoritism in awarding contracts.

– Given my experiences over the last two weeks, this column about sexism directed at women reporters resonated.

 

Bills-stadium_jpg-300x199The New York State Assembly would like the Bills to reimburse the state for its contribution to the renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium if the Bills leave town. The state’s investment is $60 million.

The Bills, state and Erie County agreed the team would pay a $400 million penalty if they left town during the 10-year lease. But the Bills have an out that allows to pay only $29 million if they leave after the seventh year.

The assembly would have the Bills pay back the $60 million if they leave at any time during the lease, in addition to the other penalties.

The Buffalo News reports Assemblyman Steve Katz of Putnam County said:

“Aren’t they wealthy enough that they can handle their own operating support?” Katz asked Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairman Herman Farrell.

“I don’t see that this is the financial boon to the City of Buffalo,” Katz said, suggesting the state should be wary of sports franchises that threaten to leave if they don’t get public funding.

Gannett reports Katz got pushback from someone who seriously tried to compare the Bills stadium with the Tappan Zee Bridge, which runs through Katz’s district:

Assemblyman Steve Katz: “I dare say a whole lot more people will be using the Tappan Zee Bridge and will be employing far more people than anything coming out of Ralph Wilson stadium. One is vital transportation to bring economic development to get people from one state to another on a bridge versus something, that as much as I love it, is still an elective, still a luxury.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Poloncarz says that on the Bills deal, once you total in the state income tax that will be paid by the players and the sales tax by fans, the state will come out ahead.

Katz demanded Polancarz show him the figures. I doubt they’ll ever be produced. Study after study shows stadiums have dubious economic impact. Polancarz is wrong in using sales tax figures to justify taxpayer investment in the stadium. That line of reasoning assumes people who attend games would not spend their money on other forms of entertainment within New York state. Furthermore, spending money at a Bills game is a little like eating at a chain restaurant; less of the fans’ money stays local.

As for the players’ hefty salaries, perhaps it’s a wiser investment for government to focus on economic development that creates long-lasting, good-paying jobs.

Links of the Day:

– Frontier’s CEO is getting a raise and a potential bonus that would more than double her salary.

– An Onondaga County school superintendent is being paid $185,000 to “retire.” These types of gifts should be illegal.

– A fruit company is opening a plant in Central New York, hoping to ride the yogurt wave.

The high-tech future of streetlights.

Bills-stadium_jpg-300x199To keep the Buffalo Bills, taxpayers will shell out $226 million over the next 10 years. That sum includes $95 million for stadium renovations, with the Bills kicking in $35 million. Taxpayers will pay about $3.2 million per home game.

This is what the the Erie County executive called “affordable” and a “gift” to fans.

There’s more. The lease deal includes a provision to form a working group to explore a new stadium. Taxpayers could be $95 million deep into a facility that will be abandoned within a decade. Who would ever invest that kind of money into a stadium used only seven times a year (Toronto doesn’t count) that could be replaced sooner rather than later?

The best part is the Bills could leave Western New York in seven years with only a $28 million penalty. Guess who’s left holding the bag?

Sure, this is way less than the billion-dollar stadium deals we’re seeing across the NFL. But that’s just comparing levels of crazy.

Sure, the Bills have a ton of uncertainty, with no ownership succession plan. It shouldn’t follow that taxpayers throw good money after bad. This is some very expensive, short-term, Band-Aid planning.

This is sports welfare at its finest. The governor said, “The Buffalo Bills account for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact.” The Buffalo News found very little evidence of economic impact. Studies show stadiums are money-losers for communities.

I suspect this one will be no different.

Links of the Day:

– In a huge win, Kodak has sold its power plant. It’s not clear if taxpayers will have to contribute anything.

– It appears the state inflated job creation figures when it announced a $50 million investment in company’s plans to move to Buffalo. This is a company that’s lost money over the past few years.

– State lawmakers may return to Albany for a special session on guns.

 – People waited in line 30 hours to buy Air Jordans in Syracuse.

Request for Help:

Friends, I received a Facebook message from Melissa Preston. She has five children and one grandchild living with her in East Rochester. She’s unemployed, has had some health issues and lives on food stamps, and rental and utility assistance. Melissa said she doesn’t have a single Christmas gift for her children. I spent some time on the phone with her this morning. I’ve never met her and don’t know a lot about her, but promised her I would pass on her number if anyone cares to help. It’s 371-2673. She has three daughters, ages 20, 15, and 12, and two sons ages 9 and 7. Her granddaughter is 2. She said clothes are a big need.

Rendering of proposed Bills stadium

In all the talk of a proposed downtown Buffalo Bills stadium this week, there wasn’t enough attention paid to the fact professional sports have little impact on local economies. When you’re talking about investing huge amounts of taxpayer dollars – whether it’s $200 million to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium or $400 million to build a new stadium – it’s important to realize there’s not a huge return.

The Cato Institute found:

The evidence suggests that attracting a professional sports franchise to a city and uilding that franchise a new stadium or arena will have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in that city. Yet  government decisionmakers and politicians continue to try to attract professional sports
franchises to cities, or use public funds to construct elaborate new facilities in order to keep existing franchises from moving…

…one thing is clear from the evidence on professional sports franchises: owners are reaping substantial benefits in the value of their teams because they are so skilled at the stadium gambit.

Studies have found when sports are not around, people spend their money on other entertainment. When stadiums host big events, like the Super Bowl, visitors are displacing others who would have visited. Construction jobs are typically overstated. Development around stadiums is not guaranteed. Stadiums can drain local coffers to the point vital services have to cut. Recent stadium deals have been structured to allow team owners to escape hefty taxes, while the rest of us are footing the bill for their shiny new homes.

Finally, team owners threatening to move away are often not serious, according to a magnificent NPR story on stadium economics:

“Politicians continue to believe that it would be political disaster to lose a team on their watch,” Baade says.

Actually losing a team, though, is extremely rare. Most team owners prefer to keep plugging for new stadiums in their hometowns even after their bluff has been called…

…after successfully using relocation threats to get the city of Pittsburgh to help fund a new hockey arena, Penguins owner and NHL legend Mario Lemieux admitted, “Our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go, and have a nice dinner and come back…. That was just a way for us to put more pressure, and we knew it would work at the end of the day.” (It’s also worth noting that even in those few cities where teams have moved, no local elected official has yet been voted out of office as a result…)

There’s no question professional sports teams add to the quality of life of a city. But when you’re talking about billion-dollar behemoths funded by taxpayers, that argument only goes so far.

Links of the Day:

Genesee Brewery has been sold.

– A Pittsford resident is quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle saying an apartment complex filled with renters could drag down the school district. Never mind these will be high-end units not filled with dreaded poor people.

– This was sadly predictable. Wegmans learned you can’t extend a school day without extra cash. Both the executives and the school district are to blame for incredibly poor planning.

– More Monroe County businesses are offering high-deductible insurance plans. This is a huge issue for employees, as one serious illness or surgery can cause severe problems for families living paycheck to paycheck or with meager savings.

– CNN has banned the term “Frankenstorm” because it makes light of a storm that’s already killed people.

Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex rendering provided to Buffalo News

A Buffalo company wants the Bills to move into a proposed $1.4 billion waterfront stadium with a retractable roof. The Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex says the facility could also double as a convention center.

What’s more, Strong National Museum of Play wants in, according to the Buffalo News:

The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, wants in, too, proposing the North American Museum of Sports and Culture as part of making the outer harbor a year-round destination.

(snip)

G. Rollie Adams, a former Buffalonian who is president and CEO of Strong, said a sports museum would focus on “sports, play, competition and character.” He said, “This just seems like a natural way to bring a lot of things together.”

A few big problems with this plan:

1. The company hasn’t talked to the Bills.

2. The company hasn’t talked to politicians.

3. The company doesn’t own the 167-acre site – the state does.

4. There’s no business plan. But we all know what any business plan will include – a lot of your tax dollars. Study after study has shown stadiums are a money-loser for communities.

5. The last thing cities need is convention centers. They don’t make money and there’s a glut of space.

6. Is a football stadium the best use for waterfront property? A mixed use development including housing, retail and offices that comes out on the positive side for taxpayers might be better.

7. What’s the development plan for the surrounding area?

8. Would a stadium guarantee the Bills stick around? What’s the succession plan again?

The current plan is to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium for $200 million. The state is being asked to kick in some cash. Some think the stadium will become outdated quickly, even with the upgrades. There are no guarantees the Bills won’t bolt when it’s all done.

This new proposal has a lot of “wow.” Many have wanted the Bills downtown for some time. But this is about as big a lift as we’ve ever seen for any project in this state. Make no mistake – if it gets done – we’ll be carrying it for some time.

Update: I went to Buffalo today to cover the developers’ presentation before the Common Council. Here is my report. These are some additional renderings.

Also, a lot of people are asking about parking and traffic. There would be 5,000 spaces, so don’t worry, tailgating wouldn’t be harmed. But I don’t believe downtown projects should be nixed because of traffic. There will always be bottlenecks at special events, no matter where they are located. Furthermore, in downtown areas, not everyone is coming and going out of the same lots. That said, this outer harbor area seems a tad isolated because of the Skyway.

 

 

The Buffalo Bills plan to spend $200 million in upgrades to Ralph Wilson Stadium. What if the city, state and team took a much bigger leap and located the stadium downtown?

Guest columnist Michael Peroha writes in the Buffalo News:

Rather than spend public funds on an aging stadium located in the suburbs, it would make much more sense to make a strategic investment in Buffalo by building a multiuse center on the site of the current Coca-Cola Field and surrounding area. This location is ideal for a project that could be called the Buffalo Niagara Gateway Center, which would be comprised of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, a modern train station, a mass transit hub, as well as retail and cultural venues to complement Canalside.

This site is in the heart of downtown, a block from the Metro line and directly across Exchange Street from the current, very modest Amtrak train station. The Buffalo Niagara Gateway Center could transform this location into the focal point of transportation downtown, the gateway to Western New York.

A downtown stadium – provided it is walkable and connected to amenities – could provide far more economic benefits than the current stadium. Would you be more likely to attend a game if you could hop on Amtrak and get dropped off right at the venue? Would you be more likely to walk around downtown and try out bars and restaurants and perhaps book a hotel room after a Bills game?

But new stadiums can cost $1 billion and there’s little appetite for spending that kind of money on a sports team. Where would Buffalo get a billion bucks?

Oh wait….

Links of the Day:

– What makes a successful urban stadium? Walkability, according to The Atlantic. The magazine said Super Bowl visitors were floored by the Indianapolis stadium’s close distance to everything. Some people said they didn’t need their cars all weekend:

It’s a six or seven block walk from Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, the symbolic center of the city. Most of the city’s big hotels and restaurants are also nearby. Not that Indy isn’t also plagued by sprawl and disinvested neighborhoods, by the way, but its relatively compact, walkable downtown is loaded with convenience compared to the locations of most NFL football facilities.

One of Rochester’s stadiums does not have walkability. The other one sort of has it.

Frontier Field is walkable from High Falls, the St. Paul Quarter and downtown hotels. But the area is awash in amenities for visitors. There’s no real critical mass of restaurants and retail within walking distance. The East End is too far.

As for the Sahlen’s Stadium, you drive in and drive out. Aside from a couple bars, there aren’t places to get a bite to eat. The area also suffers from a perception of being unsafe, though there have been precious few incidents related to games.

But all of this can change! I’ve long thought the city needs to make better connections between Frontier and Sahlen’s, whether it’s through walking paths or shops. It’s possible State St. and Main St. could gain more businesses in the coming years, helping the stadiums.

One thing is clear. Building standalone stadiums in the suburbs doesn’t foster economic development, either.

– There was a time when 110 million people rode Rochester buses. The buses were so crowded, people cussed a lot.

– Rochester has the dubious honor of leading the annual snowfall race, otherwise known as the Golden Snowball.

– First the bees died. Then the bats. Now turtles?