BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After years of working on a new stadium deal for the Buffalo Bills, the final step to fully moving forward with construction was taken Thursday with the 11-member Erie County Legislature unanimously approving the deal for a 30-year lease.
The new stadium is scheduled to open in 2026. Major construction on the project is scheduled to begin in June.
"We want to thank Governor [Kathy] Hochul, the County Executive and all of our public partners for bringing this process to a successful conclusion," Bills executive vice president & COO Ron Raccuia said in a statement. "All of the legal agreements and public-private partnerships with the county and the state are signed. There are no more documents. All the focus is now on construction and the opening of the stadium, which will start immediately."
The vote came exactly one month after the Bills, New York state and Erie County signed all the documents for the project. The legislature then had 30 days to review those documents, with the deal largely expected to pass.
"As much as everybody would like to think the Bills were never moving, there was always a risk being a small market and larger markets that were interested in the team," Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said after the signing of the documents. "So, because of the tremendous work of so many, including from the Pegulas' team, I can guarantee you that this team is staying here for the rest of my life and everyone will be able to cheer on the Buffalo Bills for decades to come."
The deadline for the final negotiations was pushed back multiple times with unforeseen events this past year, including co-owner Kim Pegula suffering cardiac arrest in June 2022 and multiple historic blizzards in Buffalo.
The original cost for the stadium was $1.4 billion, with the state and county responsible for a combined $850 million in funding for the project -- the largest amount of public funds for an NFL stadium at the time. The Tennessee Titans have since surpassed that with more than $1.2 billion in public funding committed to a new domed stadium in Nashville.
The price tag of the new stadium in Buffalo has already gone up to $1.54 billion, but Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are responsible for covering any excess costs.
Included in the documentation for the new deal is a community benefits agreement that includes the team investing at least $3 million a year in the community, with that amount adjusted every year by the price index (subject to a maximum increase of 2.2% a year). That would raise over $100 million over the terms of the lease.
It also includes a nonrelocation agreement that has language against the team even considering moving and says that the Bills shall not "entertain any offer or proposal to relocate the Team to a location other than the Stadium."
The Bills' new home will be across the road from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, which is where the team's practice facility is also located. The Bills are working with architectural firm Populous as well as with Legends, a consulting group working on stadium development.
In March 2022, the NFL owners unanimously approved the Bills' proposal for a new stadium, and the Bills officially reached an agreement with the state and Erie County on the new $1.4 billion stadium.
The open-air stadium will be built on a 242-acre site, will cover approximately 1.35 million square feet and will feature 60,000-62,000 seats, with the team moving to a personal seat license model for all season tickets to assist in funding from the team side. The stadium will not have a dome, but it will include stacked seating and a canopy overhang to protect fans from the elements.
The canopy will cover 65% of the seats and help protect against wind and precipitation. It will work together with the perforated multidimensional exterior skin of the stadium that creates wind confusion to prevent swirling winds from getting to the field level.
Highmark Stadium opened in 1973 and is the fourth-oldest NFL stadium. The current stadium's lease was scheduled to end in July, but now extends to 2028 with this agreement. The construction of the stadium was originally 100% publicly financed. New York state will own the new stadium.