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Taxpayers might get a break in Bills lease deal

By Tim Graham

There's been a reasonable assumption taxpayers would carry the burden for improvements the Buffalo Bills want made to Ralph Wilson Stadium as part of their lease extension.

I've interviewed Erie County Executives Mark Poloncarz, predecessors Chris Collins and Joel Giambra and Bills CEO Russ Brandon for various stories on the stadium lease. Poloncarz and Collins told me the state would have to pick up all the renovation costs for any deal to work.

Nobody ever whispered the Bills and the NFL could pick up a chunk. The refrain was that the state would pay for the fixes, just like it did last time.

But maybe taxpayers will get some relief after all.

Buffalo News reporters Gene Warner and Denise Jewell Gee have a story in today's paper that says the Bills and the NFL could combine to pay for at least $50 million of a tab that could be somewhere between $200 million and $220 million.

The NFL offers what it calls a G-4 loan program for stadium construction and sizable renovation costs.

From the story:

Those close to the current lease negotiations among the Bills, Erie County and New York State say that the G-4 funding is considered key to helping pay for the renovations needed in any new lease agreement. The Bills' current stadium lease runs out July 31, 2013.

Here's how the program would work:

Let's say that state, county and Bills negotiators agree to $200 million in stadium improvements. Under the G-4 program, if the Bills agreed to pay $25 million of that total -- that's hypothetical -- the NFL could match that amount with another $25 million.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told The News clubs must pay a minimum of $25 million before the league will match a G-4 loan.

So how about that? The public not fully funding a major sports team to play in a building only that major sports team can use.

Also in today's Buffalo News, beat reporter Mark Gaughan has a minicamp wrap story that focuses on the Bills' defensive line, the No. 2 receiver battle, the quarterback depth chart and other observations.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |