In the days before COVID was part of our vocabulary, renovating KeyBank Center (and Bills Stadium to boot) was a popular topic of conversation. There were plenty of column inches, Tweets and news segments devoted to the growing need for renovations at both of
Renovating Buffalo’s major league venues is hardly a new topic. In the time before COVID became part of our daily vocabulary, it wasn’t a question of if but when KeyBank Center and Bills Stadium would see improvements.
Pegula Sports hired CAA ICON in November of 2018 to assist in determining the next steps for both the stadium and arena. Fan surveys were distributed and I can only guess were used to help gauge the appetite certain changes might bring about.
All of this has naturally been put on hold with the pandemic keeping fans out of both venues for the better part of a year. Exactly when the Pegulas and Erie County will be ready for any sort of significant project is hard to peg given the lack of revenue typically generated by ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and everything that typically comes with a season help under normal operating procedures.
Bills Stadium is a larger project to fathom due to the external forces pushing for a new stadium for the football team. We’ve heard that the Bills need to play catch up with the league for a long time now and exactly how the Pegulas, the County and all of the other stakeholders navigate that situation will be worth tracking. It seems as if everything remains on the table. Whether a massive renovation of the existing structure, a new stadium in Orchard Park or downtown. The project will be generational, no matter which version the stakeholders land on in the end.
By comparison, KeyBank Center won’t be nearly as daunting for the Pegulas to handle. The price tag will still be massive, especially if they opt for a truly in-depth renovation, but they’re not angling for a new building so the cost will be relatively affordable. There’s no question the arena is in need of some upgrades. It wasn’t built with many bells and whistles to begin with and the lack of those amenities have sped up the aging process as a result.
All of this was in the back of my mind as I went through the arena rankings survey on The Athletic today. I have my answers to their questions below with some of the rationale behind it.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s atmosphere?
2 – We’ve all made a joke about the arena being a morgue or a library and that’s not going to change until the team improves. That’s been a talking point from pretty much anyone in and out of the organization the last few years and I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon. Is there an opportunity to cultivate a more passionate home atmosphere even as the team struggles to improve? Yes. Do I think it will happen? No. So we’ll wait until they start winning again before that number improves.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s sight lines?
9 – Somewhere Russ Brandon is smiling after seeing this question. But the seating bowl at KeyBank Center is very well constructed for watching a hockey game. Save for a few of the awkward areas that are obstructed by the benches or penalty boxes, there aren’t too many bad seats in that building.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s food options?
5 – I certainly don’t look forward to eating at the arena, but they have a good variety of options to choose form and some of it is pretty good. They have some local partners but there’s no way that’s actually La Nova pizza they sell at the arena. I’d like to see a few more real restaurants operate in the arena, I think that could add to the culinary experience. If that’s something you’re looking for at a game.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s accessibility (parking, public transit, ease of exit, etc.)?
9 – Someone will take offense to this ranking but there is a sea of parking near the arena and if you use your head, you can get out of there will minimal delay due to traffic. Between the surface lots throughout the Cobblestone Parking District, garages and the Metro rail it’s very easy to get to and from with little fuss.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s location (nearby restaurants, bars, etc.)?
7 – I’m banking on the coming Canalside proejcts to boost this rating, but even without them there are a handful of good spots within walking distance and the city is small enough that you aren’t far from Allentown, Elmwood or anywhere else you care to go downtown.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s overall appearance, internal and external?
3 – The arena is showing its age in pretty much every way. The concourses feel tighter and lack amenities. The interior lacks some of the more creative features you see in newer buildings and the exterior could use a facelift as well, especially with Harborcenter affecting the design of the atrium. I’ve shared some thoughts on the subject in the past if you care to check them out.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate your home arena’s unique touches (statues, traditions, game presentation, cannons, etc.)?
3 – The plays on the floor of the 100 level are cool but they’re too difficult to decipher. The alumni photos around the concourse are dated and don’t draw enough attention in a world where technology is king. Even the cool exhibit space that used to bookend the Blue Zone bar has been covered up. And the alumni plaza still only features the one statue.
The concourses could use some unique, interactive features and exhibits which highlight some of the best aspects of the history of the Sabres, Bandits and Buffalo sports. Giving the French Connection some company in the plaza would be cool and simply making the arena feel a little less like a bunker and a like more of a party atmosphere would go a long way.