ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Stalled lease negotiations have led to the Buffalo Bills and Erie County favoring a one-year lease extension that would allow the team to keep playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium next season while talks continue on a long-term deal.
County executive Mark Poloncarz announced Wednesday that he and the Bills have agreed in principle to extend the lease if necessary if a new deal is not in place once the current one expires July 31. Poloncarz's announcement came after Bills CEO Russ Brandon raised concerns about the lack of progress in negotiations to reach a long-term deal.
"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," said Poloncarz.
Poloncarz said the state is also on board with a one-year extension, and expects a formal agreement to be signed "fairly quick."
Brandon went public with his concerns by informing The Buffalo News that negotiations had stalled in a story published Wednesday morning. Brandon then repeated his concerns in an interview with The Associated Press.
"They have stalled over the last few months, and hopefully, we'll restart the process and reset the calendar in the near future," he 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."
Brandon described a one-year extension as "certainly being a possibility."
The lack of progress has already led to one setback.
Brandon said the team will miss a deadline this month to apply for an NFL loan assistance program to help offset the $200-$220 million in costs the Bills and taxpayers would share for proposed renovations and upgrades to the 39-year-old stadium.
Brandon said the Bills needed to present their proposal for loan assistance at a committee meeting to have it placed on the agenda for a league meeting next month. The next chance the Bills will have to do that won't be until March.
However, a one-year extension fails to address a key concern in securing the franchise's long-term future in Buffalo. The team's founder and Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson is 93, and he spent a week in the hospital this month.
Wilson has said he has no intention to leave the team to his family, and instead plans to have his heirs sell the franchise. That opens the possibility of a new owner relocating the franchise, and makes a move less expensive if the team is not tied to a long-term lease.
"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."