Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes is at an enormous crux of power in Albany and is the only politician in Western New York — besides Governor Kathy Hochul — with enough clout in the state budget process to alter the terms of a deal to construct a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
Now, major figures in the community are asking Peoples-Stokes to wield her power in Albany to ensure that the stadium is part of an inclusive economic development strategy.
“In order for Terry Pegula to secure public financing for the project, he needs the State Assembly on board, and Crystal leads the Majority,” a source close to the situation explains. “Crystal has enough clout in the budget process to dictate terms to Governor Hochul because she needs this political win so badly.”
Just this week, the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP wrote a letter in support of a downtown location for the $1.4 billion dollar project, concerned that a suburban site is rooted in the same 1960’s-mentality of socio-spatial segregation that caused the State to build the University at Buffalo’s north campus in Amherst rather than downtown.
“Western New York is on the verge of committing its most egregious city planning error since the University of Buffalo built its new campus in Amherst (instead of Buffalo) over fifty years ago,” the Rev. Mark Blue, President of the Buffalo chapter, writes.
“It is fundamental to the role of a public servant to use taxpayer funds in a manner that is both responsible and visionary. A stadium in Orchard Park is neither. We as taxpayers deserve additional benefits from our investment in this stadium besides just preventing our football team from relocating. Community benefit from this project is integrally linked to its location,” Blue explains.
Blue wants the stadium to serve as a catalyst for spin-off economic development activity in which Buffalo’s African American community can readily participate.
Peoples-Stokes is being encouraged to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement that would dictate terms on the stadium’s civic usage, MWBE construction contracting, space for local tenants, more inclusive concession vendors, and community programming.
Those familiar with her thinking suggest that she plans to insist on terms that are likely to include:
- University at Buffalo usage for six NCAA Division I Football game days.
- Six dates will be reserved for major stadium concerts each year, managed by six separate local entertainment event companies, at least three of which will serve diverse markets/audiences.
- Civic usage for ten festival-like programming events on major holidays and cultural events, perhaps including Juneteenth, the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, Holloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Dyngus Day, the Taste of Buffalo, the Italian Festival, Veteran’s Day, and Cinco De Mayo.
- Four dates reserved for use by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for special performances associated with MLK Day, Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving performances.
- Buffalo Public Schools usage for an annual city-wide three-day tournament of high school football teams.
In addition to terms on the usage of the facility, Peoples-Stokes is also likely to insist on design modifications to the stadium to ensure economic inclusion in the local sports industry, and to ensure that the facility is used 365-days a year.
Among ideas being discussed by her advisors include:
- At least thirty storefront spaces along the stadium’s streetscape, reserved for local tenants including restaurants, retailers, taverns, bodegas, and artisan shops; at least 30% of which would be reserved for minority-owned businesses.
- Entertainment space will be integrated into the stadium design including 100,000 square feet of venues like arcades, cinemas, billiards, golf simulators, bowling, and laser tag; at least 30% of which would be reserved for minority-owned businesses.
- Outdoor public space for thirty seasonal street vendors, 30% of which would be reserved for minority-owned businesses.
- A 30,000 square foot visitor-center-experience that would serve as the Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame and would be open seven days a week.
- At least 100,000 total seats, with a wider range of price points, including more economy volume at low price points and more specialized seating options at high price points.
Governor Hochul is expected to unveil an initial proposal on April 1st when the State Budget is due — but it’s widely expected that Peoples-Stokes will stop the project from being included in the budget until better terms have been negotiated.
Those negotiations are expected to take from April 1st to the beginning of May. Hochul has publicly committed to the project, so a failure for it to be included in this budget would be a remarkable shock to the entire body politic.