Bills lease opens the door for new digs

Seven more years of the Buffalo Bills. Seven years to end the playoff drought, to find a quarterback and maybe even win a Super Bowl. The new Bills lease has granted a stay of execution of sorts for a team that was once rumored to be on the hot seat for relocation.

Really what this lease does is provide a seven-year (possibly ten) window for this franchise to build a new stadium and cement themselves in Buffalo permanently. Of course building that stadium will be more than just a difficult mountain to summit.

The new lease has some safe and reassuring features built into at while also containing its fair share of confusing wrinkles. The $400 million buyout is no small fee, especially when combined with whatever the NFL charges for relocation fees for a new owner. The seven-year buyout is a big factor, especially for those who were truly frightened at the thought of the Bills leaving town.

Of course, the window for a much more affordable $28 million after year seven should make fans more uneasy, especially if there is no new stadium in sight. It is a safe assumption to think that the lease was worded to spend a year or two on feasibility and design and the next five on construction of a new stadium that would leave a miniscule opt-out for the team to slide into their new digs after year seven.

Being Buffalo that window probably should have been expanded to fifteen years with an additional five built into the extension of the deal. Naturally some obstructionist group will find out that Dewitt Clinton once used an outhouse on the Outer Harbor and will have it deemed historically significant with a “slower, dumber, cheaper” way to fill it with lawn chairs and sod.

Although the perceived timetable for getting the wheels turning on a new stadium would be the shortest in the history of Buffalo development projects, it is absolutely necessary due to the precarious ownership situation that currently looms over the franchise.

The Bills currently have a roster with a few stars, a below-average quarterback, an overmatched coach, a crumbling relic of a stadium and an owner who is older than C. Montgomery Burns. Amid all the rumors surrounding Jim Kelly, his mystery buyer and other ownership whispers, there is no obvious heir or white knight who could step in to ensure the Bills remain in Buffalo now and beyond this lease. A new stadium would go a long way in keeping the Bills in Western New York and attracting the necessary corporate suite buyers who help to ensure financial viability.

While the small potatoes renovations being applied to the Ralph will provide a band-aid to the aging stadium, replacing the Ralph should be of immediate concern to those with a vested interest in the franchise.

Looking back at the stadium plans unveiled earlier this year, I think there is room to find a workable solution to a stadium within the city limits that could even include a retractable roof. Of course, the additions to that plan which increased the cost above the billion mark should be scaled back or even removed altogether. At the end of the day the price tag is what will be the determining factor.

Evaluating a final location for the stadium is no matter at this point. Having ample space for tailgating and parking are certainly sticking points, but there are places in the city and suburbs which meet that standard. What needs to be determined is what will be absolutely necessary to include in any final design for this structure.

Although the whimsy of snow games and the success of the mid-90s Bills in sun or snow brings pleasant memories, I feel that a roof will not only help ensure late-season sellouts but it could even make the prospect of playing here more attractive to players and coaches alike.

So count in a roof, real concourses and twin video scoreboards to serve all the fans (something that appears to be part of the upcoming renovations) at any new stadium. As for capacity, I have stated before that affordable (relatively) stadiums have been built in many NFL cities for well under the billion dollar watermark. Most of those stadiums have a capacity somewhere in the neighborhood of 65-to 70,000.

Assuming that is the target capacity for any new Bills stadium, I would assume the price tag is somewhere north of $700 million. That particular price tag will surely require some form of public funding to be built. While I don’t necessarily agree with the need for all stadiums to be publicly funded, I do understand that it is simply a way of life.

Either way a new stadium is vital to the long term viability of the franchise. That $28 million buyout will be a hell of a lot scarier if there is no footing for a new stadium seven years down the line. Getting those final three years locked in to make sure this lease is an even ten years and leading this new lease into a mega-lease in a shiny new stadium is the timeline all fans should be rooting for.

Unless, of course, you’re tired of the Bills. Then you might want to root for an MLS franchise.


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