The Buffalo Bills’ new $1.4 billion stadium will be one of the most expensive projects in the history of the NFL. A staggering $850 million of the $1.4 billion will be financed through state and local funds, making it the most generous outlay of public funds for a professional football facility ever. The remaining $550 million will be covered by the Buffalo Bills. In recent years, it has become commonplace for community taxpayers to face the brunt of the cost for the development of mega-stadiums, with developers claiming that stadiums will increase the economic prosperity of said neighborhoods. The promised returns of investment are often found to be either overexaggerated or completely inaccurate.

Historically and currently, Buffalo is hypersegregated with the east side of the city being predominantly Black and underserved. In light of May’s racially motivated mass shooting that occurred at one of the few supermarkets in Buffalo’s east side, activists are highlighting the fact that food deserts remain a massive problem not only in Buffalo, but in cities throughout the entire country. In Buffalo, Black residents are six times more likely than white neighbors to live in an area without a grocery store, according to a 2018 report from the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank. After the shooting, the Tops Friendly Market was forced to close down, further limiting the residents of East Buffalo’s access to food.

The development plans for the new stadium have left many Buffalo residents wondering how the local economy and the livelihood of its citizens will be affected. Those city residents who foot the tax bill for such an enormous investment, but expect no economic benefit, make a compelling argument—invest in us and our children. One way cities do this is with a community benefit agreement (CBA).

A CBA is a contract signed between community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community or neighborhood. When done right, CBAs can be massively successful in aiding low-income neighborhoods and communities. For example, in 2001, community groups in Los Angeles brokered a CBA for an entertainment district being built adjacent to the Staples Center (now Arena). The agreement provided 20% affordable housing, $1 million for park improvements and recreational facilities, and living wages for 70% of the jobs created by the development. Being one of the first successful CBAs on a large scale, this helped set the tone and lay out the framework for future CBAs. CBAs also can support children directly by setting parameters that provide funding for public schools, the development of recreational centers, and the creation of after-school programs.

While it has already been confirmed that the new Bills’ stadium will include a CBA, the financials of the deal have not been finalized and many local residents are concerned that it won’t be adequate. So far, the conversation about the CBA has centered on community access to the stadium itself; but access to a sports venue falls far short of the kinds of investments in housing, food availability, public school, and neighborhood recreational funding that Buffalo’s East Side needs and deserves. Access to proper nourishment, education, and living conditions is essential in the physical and mental development of youth.

The publicly articulated priorities of the stadium developers don’t yet align with a more expansive, equitable vision of investment. “We want to see better access to the stadium, we want to see great public access. We want to see better ways to get in and out on game day, so going to a game doesn’t mean you’re going to be stuck in traffic for a long time,” Matt Davison, chairperson of the Business Backs Buffalo Football group, told WKBW Buffalo. “We think that can help folks get back to Rochester, Syracuse, Erie, PA even faster and increase our season ticket holder, suite holder base.” Formed in 2021, “Business Backs Buffalo Football aims to provide ‘an experienced, business-oriented voice’ with regard to ongoing stadium financing and construction talks,” according to FIOR Reports.

Such commitments only scratch the surface of the kinds of investments needed to address equity in the City of Buffalo. “It’s great to open up this recreational opportunity to more people and make it a little bit more accessible, but with the amount of public funding toward this deal, that’s simply not enough,” Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, executive director of the Partnership for the Public Good, told The Buffalo News.

In the aftermath of the murder of 10 Black residents—targeted specifically because of race and hypersegregation—the Buffalo Bills announced that the team plans to donate $400,000 to the victims’ families. While this is a notable single gesture, the Tops grocery store tragedy laid bare the need for ongoing, dedicated investments—the kind of investments that the backers of the Bills, an organization valued at over $2.2 billion, might champion. A CBA that guarantees community investments of even a fraction of projected stadium profits could directly benefit Buffalo’s underserved neighborhoods in perpetuity. Such investments might not only restore a single grocery store in a food desert, but accrue long-term and broad-based benefits for generations to come.

Funizwe Gaines Sikosana is a guest writer for Children’s Funding Project.