The 2ITB Plan for a Bills stadium

The Bills sale is going to close before we know it and the focus will shift from who will be purchasing the team to what that new owner plans to do for a new stadium.

More than a few opinions are floating around currently and this week’s Artvoice cover story goes into great detail about a very cool plan for a new stadium in the heart of downtown. It is a phenomenal article written by a pair of stadium experts with the details worked out and planned by a true expert.

I really love the idea of depressing the 190 and eliminating a great deal of the barriers that sever the central business district from the waterfront. My concern is that the costs associated with such a project would ultimately doom this plan, despite its resounding brilliance. There won’t be a better alternative in terms of quality, preparation and vision compared to what Andrew Kulyk, Peter Farrell and the rest of the Artvoice crew came up with.Bills

That being said, I decided to break down and share my own personal pipe dream for a downtown stadium. In a previous post on this site, I alluded to my interest in utilizing the Perry Projects as the site for a new stadium. I love the proximity to Canalside and First Niagara Center along with the opportunity to reinvigorate a district that has been whittled down to a single block of buildings.

This plan is contingent on one major factor: the development of an adequate replacement to the current Perry Projects. If there isn’t a feasible option for relocating the residents of both the towers and two-story apartments, there is no reason to think about a stadium on this site. Ideally the BMHA (whose office near the Perry projects would need to move as well) would be able to take advantage of the countless vacant lots throughout the city to develop a replacement project. Getting funding for this project from the future owner would certainly go a long way in financing the construction of the new units while aiding in gaining approval for such an undertaking.

Assuming that a new home for the Perry Projects is found, the rest of my proposal follows in a fairly simple path. Upon replacing the Perry Projects, I’d see both the currently occupied buildings along with the vacant ones further south demolished to make way for new development. Everything between Chicago and Hamburg St. could be removed and that land would serve as the location of the new stadium. There would be space for new offices for the Bills as well if that was deemed a necessary addition. You’ll notice that I’m leaving out the field house because I feel that the current one serves the team too well to simply be cast aside.

There are a few misconceptions that seem to be floating around when it comes to building the Bills a new stadium. The need for a glut of luxury boxes stands out to me as one as does the idea that any new stadium needs to occupy the same sprawling footprint as The Ralph. Neither of these need to be taken as gospel.

When I think of how I’d like to see a new stadium come together, I envision something built off the model of CenturyLink Field with a capacity around 65,000 and a manageable number of box seats. The Bills have taken steps to reduce the amount of luxury seating they have in the stadium in recent years and even with the growing interest from outside companies in the region, this still isn’t a market that can support a large number of boxes. So building a stadium with a manageable number of boxes would not only adequately serve the Bills’ market but would lay to rest the argument that every new stadium needs to be stuffed with luxury suites.

There are a few reasons I chose CenturyLink Field as my template. The open, 67,000 seat stadium was constructed with overhanging roofs which cover upwards of 70% of the seating bowl. The covered seating in an open stadium would seem to appease both the proponents of a dome and those who would rather die than not see the Bills play in the snow and sleet. I also love CenturyLink because it occupies such a small footprint while also being wonderfully conducive to hosting soccer matches, which I think should play a major factor in the construction of a new Bills stadium.

One other reason to keep CenturyLink in mind when chatting about new stadium projects is the price tag. It cost $430 million to build ($564 adjusted) by the time it opened in 2002. Other stadiums I like based on price and footprint: Lucas Oil Stadium – for those of you who demand a covered stadium – cost $720 million, Heinz Field was a measly $281 million ($374m adjusted) and Ford Field which comes it at $564 million adjusted for today’s costs. The adjusted costs of these stadiums are a very rough representation of what the Bills would ultimately spend. It’s more than likely that the price tag soars above $700 million even if an exact replica of Heinz or CenturyLink was built.

There’s another reason that I feel so strongly for the Perry site over any others. By building a stadium here, it would help to strengthen the entertainment district that is sprouting up around First Niagara Center. The combination of a football stadium, FNC and the Seneca Casino would provide the greater Cobblestone/Canalside/Arena District with three major anchors for which to develop around.

So many opponents of stadiums peg their arguments on the idea that they’re not standalone economic catalysts. They’re right, in a way. Simply plopping a stadium somewhere and assuming it will create year-round interest is foolish. An NFL team only plays eight home games a year while sitting relatively vacant (save for concerts) the rest of the year. However, having a stadium serve as a compliment to a larger mixed-use district is a recipe for success. Between FNC hosting events upwards of 75 nights a year between the Sabres, Bandits and concerts, another eight Sundays of Bills football and whatever other concerts or events that would be drawn to this stadium, you’re occupying nearly 100 days of action (mostly in the winter) before factoring in the draw of Canalside, HARBORCENTER, Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo’s terrific summers and whatever the Outer Harbor will offer both today and in the near future.

My plan calls for the Cobblestone District to expand in size and influence to envelop everywhere from FNC to the front door of this new stadium. This would be an active, live-play neighborhood that would see the city-owned surface lots bounded by Baltimore and Columbia built out along with the new parcels created between Chicago and Louisiana. All of the side streets could be paved with Cobblestones with larger thoroughfares like South Park, Michigan and perhaps Perry featuring an improved streetscape but still featuring a modern road surface.

These new blocks would be filled by low and mid-rise buildings just like the ones that dot the Illinois-Mississippi block of the Cobblestone District today. It would be a neighborhood with the character of Buffalo’s industrial heyday with residential and retail interests intertwined throughout the district. First Niagara Center and the New Stadium would serve as bookends and a new fan plaza would serve as the front door to the football stadium. The plaza would be ideal for food trucks and other pregame festivities along with a final congregation area for a supporters’ march should we ever be lucky enough to land and MLS franchise.

In my opinion, the ability to take all of the green parcels in the picture and turn them into a bustling live-play neighborhood is the true hallmark of my plan. While relocating the stadium downtown is obviously the biggest part of the puzzle, the real interest for me would be what those seven blocks could become.

An extension of the light rail down South Park could provide service for the Casino, Stadium and neighborhood as a whole while extending up and into the Larkin District as well. This could also lay the groundwork for a future extension to the Galleria and airport should the funding fall into place.

I didn’t set aside any specific space for tailgating within my plan but the glut of surface parking throughout downtown, specifically within walking distance to this area provides more than enough space for those who wish to continue one of the best Bills fan traditions.

Two parcels that I highlighted but didn’t include future plans for were Uniland’s lot on the corner of Perry and Michigan and the area occupied by the HSBC Atrium and their massive parking lot. Ideally a parking structure would be built on a portion of HSBC’s lot that could be used to service the entire district while wiping out the sea of asphalt that sits there now. Uniland’s recent action downtown (250 Delaware, Avant, etc.) indicates their willingness to take on impressive, iconic structures which gives me a great deal of confidence for what that parcel could become in the near future.

My main focus here was finding a way for the stadium to serve as a compliment to what’s going right downtown. This doesn’t need to be seen as a silver bullet thanks to all of the construction and development that’s happening as you read this. This probably isn’t the best plan since it calls for uprooting so many people who live in the area currently. But if an acceptable – if not better – replacement for the Perry Projects could be found I could see this district serving as a defining characteristic of downtown Buffalo for years to come.

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