Bills’ dream venue project to set sail



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Buffalo Bills get final approval for new stadium Image: Twitter (@BuffaloBills)

Get the shovels out, because the National Football League (NFL) team Buffalo Bills (US) can finally begin breaking ground on their 60,000-plus seat, the $1.54 billion new stadium after the project received unanimous approval from the Erie County Legislature (County Government office in Buffalo, New York) on May 4th.

‘AP’ stated that the 10-0 vote was the final formal step in a lengthy process that was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and comes some 13 months after the parameters of an agreement were reached with the taxpayers committed to funding $850 million of the cost.

The Buffalo Bills are a professional American football team based in the Buffalo metropolitan area. The Bills compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s American Football Conference East division. The team plays its home games at the Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York (US).

The 71,608-capacity Highmark Stadium is a stadium in Orchard Park, New York (US), in the Southtowns of the Buffalo metropolitan area. The stadium opened in 1973 as the Rich Stadium and is the home venue of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League (NFL).

The 62,000-capacity planned venue of the Bills will be built adjacent to the Erie Community College’s South campus across the street from the Highmark Stadium, which would be demolished. The stadium will be designed by the celebrated design studio Populous, who has previously designed 12 other active NFL stadiums, with which the new Orchard Park stadium will share numerous design elements and features.

‘AP’ further stated that the new stadium is to be built across the street from the Bills current home in Orchard Park, New York, and on track to be completed in time for the start of the 2026 season.

Bills Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Ron Raccuia informed that construction has already begun, “Well, we’ve got people working out there today, is that fast enough? It’s exciting. We’ve concluded successfully one major part of this project and now we get to go and completely turn our attention to construction and opening the new stadium for the 2026 season. I don’t know about doubts, but it took its twists and turns. But we were all committed to making this happen.”

The agreement includes a 30-year lease that essentially helps secure the Bills to continue playing in one of the NFL’s smallest markets, something that was a concern in 2014, following the death of the Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, who founded the franchise in 1960.

Ralph Cookerly Wilson Jr. was an American businessman and sports executive. He was best known as the Founder and Owner of the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills were sold at a then-NFL-record price of $1.4 billion to Terry and Kim Pegula, who also own the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) Buffalo Sabres. Though the Pegulas have shown a commitment to Buffalo and played a role in the City’s downtown revitalization, worries remained about the Bills’ long-term viability while playing in their existing home, which opened in 1973.

In recommending a new stadium be built, a State study in November 2021 pegged renovation costs to the existing facility at $862 million, which would include replacing the entire third deck.

The Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, was open to spending additional taxpayer money to have the new facility built downtown, but the Pegulas were firm on having it built near their current home by citing potential delays and concerns over displacing long-established neighborhoods.

The combined taxpayer cost – with the State committing $600 million and the county $250 million – was at the time the largest public commitment to an NFL stadium in league history.

The projected cost of the stadium has already gone up from $1.4 billion, with the Bills responsible for any over-runs.

The NFL, through its G4 loan program, and the Bills agreed to commit $550 million in financing. The Pegula’s share came in at $350 million, with much of that made up by the team introducing seat licenses for the season ticket holders.

New York (US)-based the National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that consists of 32 teams, divided equally between the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.

The NFL G-4 program allows NFL teams to receive assistance for stadium projects. The funding from the program is considered a loan and is repaid from the visiting team’s share of certain seating. A team applying for the loan is required to put up matching dollars.

Said Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County Executive, “There are many reasons to celebrate today’s (May 4th) vote, including the strong community benefits agreement (CBA) and local labor provisions that are included in the agreement, and everyone is looking forward to getting the project underway. This is a transformational project that not only keeps the Bills here for the next 30 years but will have them playing in a state-of-the-art stadium, and it’s a big win for our community.”

A community benefits agreement (CBA) in the United States is a contract signed by the community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community or neighborhood. In exchange, the community groups agree to publicly support the project, or at least not oppose it. Often, negotiating a CBA relies heavily upon the formation of a multi-issue, broad based community coalition including the community, environmental, faith-based, and labor organizations.

The Bills have been readying for the approval for much of the past year in having already hired contractors and a design firm to produce renderings of the new stadium.

The next step – an official groundbreaking ceremony – is already being planned, with Raccuia saying one will take place by June – “It’s been quite an experience. We were able to accomplish something that’s never been done in Bills history. It’s exciting to see what’s in the future for the Bills and Western New York.”

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