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Plans floated for waterfront stadium

October 23, 2012

Don’t get too excited about the pretty picture of the proposed stadium project for the Outer Harbor. Not only is this in the very early stages but the proposal seems to be a pie-in-the-sky plan that probably isn’t a great fit for Western New York.

There are plenty of bits and pieces about this idea that will hopefully become part of an actual new build, but as a project without much backing – and one the Russ Brandon said won’t happen – it is just a pretty picture for now.

To recap the details from The Buffalo News article: The 72,000 seat stadium would be the centerpiece of a $1.4 billion project that would have the stadium serve as a convention center along with a hotel, retail and parking for somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 cars. That was billion, with a B.

Considering the scope of the project, it doesn’t seem all that bad. It puts the stadium downtown along the water, something that fans have been clamoring for a while. In addition, it provides a brand-new home for a team that has been rumored to have one foot out the door due to a number of circumstances – namely their aging relic of a stadium.

However, a 72,000 seat stadium is actually on the high-end of capacities when compared to a number of stadiums around the league and the price tag would most certainly require PSLs and significantly higher tickets costs. The latter two points being widely panned as deal breakers for a financially limited region. Of course, any sort of investment in a new stadium is far more attractive and beneficial (long-term) than wasting another $200 million on upgrades to the Ralph.

The convention center addition is actually the most attractive option of this entire project. While the Ralph is in desperate need of an upgrade, the current Convention Center is just as obsolete. Pittsburgh’s beautiful, state-of-the-art convention center is located right on the river downtown and serves as a major draw for the city. Building an upgraded convention center in Buffalo would be a major step forward for the city. In fact, a new convention center – in the right location – would likely do more for the city than a stadium.

Ultimately, this project might be too big to get past the planning stages in a city like Buffalo. However, the planners may not have been thinking too big as some may accuse them of. There are plenty of shortcomings with this project but there is plenty of genius in there as well.

First off, the convention center portion is a great addition and provides the opportunity for year-round use on the site. The added hotel, sports museum and retail component provides the foundation for a development similar to Patriots Place or Westgate City Center out in Glendale. Since this project would initially be somewhat detached from downtown, providing the structure to build a restaurant and retail district surrounding the stadium would give people a reason to come down all the time, not just on Sundays.

In fact, the type of development this team is pointing to is exactly what is needed outside First Niagara Center to not only keep gameday patrons in the city, but to provide things to do for those heading to Canalside and the surrounding areas.

The hotel component is a take-it-or-leave it addition in my opinion. It is a nice addition and would be awfully useful once the retail was built up, but it would be on an island for quite a while should this project ever move forward.

Obviously building a new stadium for the Bills is the most exciting part of this conversation for most. There is a reason a new stadium is at the center of this proposal. The writing is on the wall for the Ralph. Antiquated is probably the best way to describe the stadium as there aren’t enough suites, the concourses are far too narrow and other features aren’t even existent as compared to other stadiums around the league.

As I’ve written on previously, the Bills don’t need to break the bank when building a new stadium. There is no reason to even eclipse the $800 million barrier. Considering this entire proposal is in the billion category, it would be safe to assume that the stadium is likely about 75% of the bill.

Still, looking at the rendering and some of the provided details, this stadium could probably be scaled back, re-worked and come out as a better project for the city and team.

First off, the stadium doesn’t need to hold any more than 65,000 fans, let alone 72,000. Secondly, forget the retractable roof. Either cover the stadium or leave it open. A retractable roof will simply add unnecessary costs to the project and it will probably end up being closed most of the season anyway. If the convention center portion is contingent on the roof, then just cover the thing up. But if this project is to truly capitalize on the waterfront it should be open air. After all, this is Buffalo and snow games against Miami in December have long been a fabric of being a Bills fan.

At the end of the day you’re talking about trying to float a $1.4 billion project in Buffalo. Might as well float a six-lane Peace Bridge right through Busti Ave. while you’re at it.

The biggest hurdles that will need to be cleared here are the obvious funding and approvals that don’t seem to have been secured at any level by the group coming forward with this project. However, there are also significant infrastructural matters at hand that could present major issues. Namely, the lack of a direct connection to downtown or the Thruway outside of the Skyway and the potential for Route 5 to end up being the primary artery for this project. Add in the fact that there are only 5,000 parking spots to serve a 72,000 seat stadium and there are still some question marks floating around.

Solving the infrastructure issues and possibly tweaking some of the features to make the cost of the project more realistic for an area with countless other financial worries to handle should be the two primary concerns for the group offering the proposal.

There are so many approvals that need to be received at this point that there isn’t too much room for optimism. Yes, it is nice to see that someone has taken the necessary steps to create the momentum for a new Bills stadium. However, the Bills, NFL, City, County and State still need to get on board before any real steps are taken.

Pretty pictures and grand plans are nice, but I won’t be excited until a shovel is in the ground.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2012 1:30 am

    The project, which calls for the renovation of an adjacent convention center, is facing a lawsuit filed by anti-poverty and environmental activists that some predict could delay or derail plans for the stadium, known as Farmers Field. The activist group, Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition, is challenging a state law intended to help swiftly resolve legal challenges to the stadium, and it also wants AEG to pay $60 million toward affordable housing in the long-struggling downtown neighborhood.

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  1. Infastructrue needs to be considered with any stadium project « Two in the Box

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