For some time the talk of getting the Bills a new home has circulated Western New York. While the topic was little more than barstool chatter for the most part, things finally picked up steam when the Bills signed their new lease last year.
Another step was taken yesterday when Governor Cuomo appointed five individuals to the New Stadium Working Group as “part of the state’s unwavering commitment to keep the Buffalo Bills as a thriving part of the Buffalo community.”
While there was some excitement surrounding the $1.4 billion, pie-in-the-sky proposal back in the fall of 2012, but the proposal ended up with a fairly significant lack of support from key players. Due to that, it would appear the GBESC is pretty much dead in the water given that the Bills didn’t appear to take it seriously.
Yet the process of finding the Bills a new home in Western New York continues. This group is a nice step forward but until there is measurable progress made towards identifying a site and perhaps even an architect and construction company, I won’t be overjoyed with the development. I’ve seen too many projects bogged down by committees and consultant groups to have unwavering faith with this part of the stadium process. While this is certainly an exciting development in keeping the Bills around, I want to see the progress made by this group in finding an actionable solution to building a new stadium.
When I consider the possibilities of a new stadium in Buffalo, I know that it can be done for well below the $1 billion mark and can serve as a right-sized upgrade over the Ralph. There’s no reason for a new stadium to surpass 70,000 seats in capacity and I’d even say that a cap of 65,000 seats would be appropriate for the size of the Buffalo market. We aren’t selling out an 80,000 seat stadium anymore and providing a smaller capacity would aid in combating the late-season blackouts that have become more prevalent in recent seasons.
Additionally, there’s no reason to make this a Super Bowl worthy facility. While the construction and development boom in the city will certainly attract national sporting events, I don’t think a Super Bowl should be on Buffalo’s radar and it shouldn’t impact the construction of this stadium.
The real key to a slightly smaller capacity is the bill at the end of construction. A slightly smaller facility, but one that would still appropriately serve the Buffalo market would not only lower the overall cost, but would make the avoidance of the dreaded PSL a much more realistic option. I’m of the opinion that any stadium that would require PSLs or similarly associated fees would be dead on arrival in this market. It’s a reason I think the GBESC isn’t a real option and it’s a primary reason why I’d be a proponent of a slightly smaller stadium.
Lucas Oil Stadium may be the best outline to follow as the retractable roof would provide the opportunity to capitalize on Buffalo’s wintry conditions late in the season while also providing the option for a climate controlled environment in the event that the cold is pushing fans away late in the year. Additionally, a retractable roof would add more flexibility to hosting other events in the facility as the roof could be opened or closed in the spring and summer based on the weather conditions.
Identifying a site in Downtown Buffalo should be a primary goal, as well. While Niagara Falls certainly adds to the regional draw, the Bills belong in Buffalo and there shouldn’t be an alternative to that.
There are some sites that I explored previously in what was more of a pipe dream post than anything else. Areas like near the grain elevators, on the parking lots spanning between the Thruway and the Cobblestone District along with potential locations near the East Side or the Larkin District. The Outer Harbor is an option just because of the space available out there, although that would probably be accompanied by the most public pushback due to the personal agendas of certain columnists and open-air bus tour operators.
Finding a feasible site could make the design process for the stadium seem like a piece of cake when the dust settles. It may also provide plenty of fuel for any proposal involving Niagara Falls. While there are areas within the city that could easily fit a football stadium, there doesn’t seem to be any site that’s a no-brainer.
I personally love the idea of squeezing a facility between the 190 and Buffalo River despite the elimination of the remaining developable land in the Cobblestone District. It would create a proper stadium and entertainment district centered around Canalside and the waterfront.
The East Side doesn’t seem like a horrible choice either as some savvy property purchases could potentially free up enough space to fit a new stadium. In fact, depending on which areas were targeted, using the East Side or Larkin District would make an light rail extension to the Central Terminal a very real possibility and a very cool feature.
The Outer Harbor is indeed the best option given the expanse of space available for development. Unless the Stadium Group and state find a realistic solution on the Outer Harbor I truly feel as if any site on that land is a non-starter in this discussion.
I have faith that a stadium can and will be built within the city limits. It will certainly take all 10 years of the current lease to pull off and I’m very fearful of that seventh year out clause opening the door for a new owner and a new city. However, there are very realistic options in terms of costs when considering a new stadium and price shouldn’t be a source of concern. A final site may wind up being the primary focus of the New Stadium Group and identifying a new site sooner rather than later could even expedite the process.