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Latest Interested Bills Buyer: Thruway Chair & Falls Developer Howard Milstein

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Add New York City developer Howard Milstein to a growing list of candidates interested in purchasing the Buffalo Bills.

Two people familiar with discussions confirmed Milstein's interest as a prospective owner and keeping the franchise in western New York. The people spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on the condition of anonymity because Milstein hasn't publicly revealed his intentions.

The Bills, last valued at $870 million, will be put on the market following the death of owner Ralph Wilson in March.

The sale process won't begin until Wilson's estate hires an investment banking firm to put an updated value on the franchise and oversee negotiations.
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Milstein has previous sports ownership ties to the NHL's New York Islanders and made a failed bid to purchase the NFL's Washington Redskins. He also has connections to the Buffalo region and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

He currently serves as chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority. And through his Niagara Falls Redevelopment LLC,  Milstein controls an undeveloped 142-acre plot of land in downtown Niagara Falls that has been mentioned as a potential site for a new Bills stadium.

Assemblyman John Ceretto released a statement on Friday about Milstein's reported interest.

“It is encouraging to hear so many reports of investors who want to buy the Buffalo Bills and keep them here in Western New York. Of particular interest to Niagara Falls residents is Howard Milstein, who owns land in downtown Niagara Falls and could potentially bring the Bills there. It would make sense to bring the Bills to Niagara Falls and integrate them into the local tourist economy. It would be a mutually-beneficial relationship for the Bills and the city. Plus, Niagara Falls is closer to Canada, which makes them more of an international team. While the current lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium cannot be broken until 2020, it is good to begin these discussions now because the issue is complex and will take time to figure out. The possibility of a new stadium for the Bills presents a great opportunity for economic development in Niagara Falls, and I’ll be working to see if we can make it happen.”

Milstein would face obstacles in purchasing the Bills because of a spotty history in previous ownership bids.

Milstein, his brother and Edward Milstein and Steven Gluckstern co-owned the Islanders from 1998-2000 before selling the team to Charles Wang. The Milstein/Gluckstern ownership tenure was filled with controversy over the conditions of the Islanders home, Nassau Coliseum. And the owners alienated the fan base by threatening to move the Islanders and openly discussing having the team play some home games in other arenas.

In 1999, Milstein withdrew a bid to purchase the Redskins after failing to get support from a majority of NFL owners. Some owners said he was using too much borrowed money to finance the deal, while others worried that he would be a maverick owner because of his contentious stewardship of the Islanders.

The Redskins were eventually sold to Milstein's junior partner Dan Snyder.

Milstein filed and lost a $20 million arbitration grievance accusing Snyder of breaching their joint ownership agreement.

Wilson's widow, Mary Wilson, has taken over as the Bills' controlling owner until the franchise is sold.

There is no shortage of other potential candidates. Erie County deputy executive Richard Tobe has said he's been approached by as many as 10 groups interested in the Bills.

The Bills are essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the 2019 season because of a strict non-relocation clause included in a 10-year lease agreement reached with the state and county in December 2012.

The Bills would incur a $400 million penalty by even broaching the prospect of moving during the lease's term. There is a one-time exception that would allow the Bills to break the lease for just under $28.4 million in 2020.

"They can't even plan to break this lease without being in breach," said Tobe, who represented the county in negotiations.

Tobe added the lease essentially prevents the Bills estate from selling the team to any group considering relocating the team before 2023.

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