BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration retained a key sports business legal expert to assist in the state's bid to prevent the Buffalo Bills from relocating.
Irwin Raij, who played a key role in negotiating the Bills' 10-year lease, is staying on to represent the state's interests in securing the franchise's long-term future following the death of owner Ralph Wilson.
Three weeks after Wilson's death in March, the Empire State Development board extended a contract with Foley & Lardner, and specifically with Raij, one of the firm's partners.
The approval of the extension was disclosed in minutes from ESD's meeting on April 16. Howard Glaser, the state's director of operations, confirmed the decision on Wednesday.
Raij specializes in stadium development projects and lease agreements. In 2012, he was part of a team that negotiated a lease with the Bills that included a strict non-relocation clause that makes it difficult for the team to move before the 2020 season.
The Bills' future beyond that is uncertain. They are expected to be put up for sale, opening the possibility of the franchise being moved.
''It is imperative that the state and ESD study and develop a plan to insure the long-term viability of the franchise in western New York,'' the approved resolution to extend the law firm's contract read. ''Because of the complexity of the transaction and specialized nature of professional stadium construction and lease arrangements, the advice and assistance of outside counsel is required.''
Aside from advising the state on the sale process, Raij will also work with a committee of public and private leaders that has been established to make recommendations on whether a new stadium or renovations to the Bills' current home best fit the franchise's needs once the lease expires in July 2023.
Previously, Raij led a legal team that represented Guggenheim Baseball Management in the acquisition of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also represented Major League Baseball in securing new stadium deals for the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals.
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