The Buffalo Bills’ existing stadium in Orchard Park.

The Buffalo Bills’ existing stadium in Orchard Park. Credit: AP/Joshua Bessex

Long Islanders know a thing or two about the strong desire to keep a team they love close to home.

After all, elected officials, team owners and fans spent decades trying to keep the New York Islanders on Long Island. They tried everything, including both privately- and publicly-financed options that failed, until the owners settled in a privately-paid-for home at UBS Arena at Belmont Park.

So, we understand why a governor from the Buffalo area wants to keep the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, a nearby suburb. But the state’s plan to spend $600 million of taxpayer money on construction of a new stadium, plus another $280 million over the next 30 years for maintenance, repairs and capital improvements, all thrust upon lawmakers in the waning days before a massive state budget is due, isn’t a good decision.

This plan won’t generate new permanent jobs or economic activity. It won’t add necessary housing, entertainment, office space, or community benefits. It won’t ripple through beleaguered downtown Buffalo or the surrounding communities beyond a standard eight or nine home games per year, plus a few preseason or postseason games and summer concerts. It won’t allow the stadium, without a full roof, to be used for much of the offseason.

Even state officials admit that the usual economic development arguments don’t apply here. So, what do all New York state taxpayers get for their $880 million, plus the hundreds of millions more from Erie County, that could be spent on other pressing needs?

The Bills will stay in Buffalo. The contract is “ironclad,” says Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The last time we heard "ironclad” applied to a sports team was when the Islanders promised to stay at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That lasted less than five years. State officials argue it’s not a fair comparison but also admit it’ll take 22 years before it breaks even, mostly through the income taxes on player salaries.

This isn’t a matter of parochial interests. Using state money for meaningful economic development makes sense, whether at the Nassau Hub or Long Island City or Buffalo. But this isn’t that.

It’s unclear why billionaire team owners Terry and Kim Pegula, whose primary residence is in Florida, or the wealthy National Football League, shouldn’t put up more money, and how real the threat is that the team might leave. Taxpayers deserve to see all agreements, financing details and documents. In a best-case scenario, they’d get to vote on a referendum, as Nassau County residents did in 2011 when they rejected a publicly-financed Islanders arena.

Without that opportunity, residents have to rely on state lawmakers to do the voting for them as part of the budget process. Unless new information makes it more palatable or economically meaningful, the legislature should turn this deal down.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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