BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) – Bill’s fans have been buzzing about a new stadium for years. When could it happen? Where could it be built? Or will the team stay in Orchard Park at the Ralph Wilson Stadium that was built in 1972.
“There’s been a lot of speculation since the Pegulas bought the franchise,” said Russ Brandon, president of the Bills and Sabres. He is one of the most connected people in the One Buffalo sports world and has his hands in the process.
We asked him if there are developers out there right now that want to be part of some kind of new adventure one day? Brandon said, “Yes I mean obviously over time people are doing spec work.”
While Brandon knows what’s going on it will be Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula making the decisions. Six months ago Mr. Pegula said “We’re in no hurry,” when asked about a new stadium. But two years ago he said, “Well, there’s going to be a new stadium somewhere, that’s all I know.”
NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell who is from Jamestown agreed with Pegula and said the 10 year lease at the Ralph is only a “short term solution.”
At the beginning of 2015 fans got excited when the state released a study for a new stadium focusing on three downtown sites and the current location in Orchard Park. The downtown sites were located along the Buffalo river, another right off Exchange street and also in the Cobblestone District.
Recently we sat down with Pat Freeman who knows all about those studies. For the past two decades the WUFO sports radio host and lifetime Bills fan has been exchanging ideas with developers. He is convinced even if the Pegulas and Brandon won’t talk about a new stadium, discussions have happened.
“I think they’re already working on it I think they will use a lot of the ideas we have discussed during this interview,” said Freeman. “We needed to change the way we’re thinking here so I started studying how we can do that based on how other teams have done it.”
Freeman looked at other cities to see what Buffalo can learn from them. One of the teams he focused on is Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It’s connected to the convention center and used all year round. Freeman wants something like that in Buffalo.
Indy leaders tell News 4’s Nalina Shapiro the city’s $750 million investment paid off in five years. During that time Indy tourism leaders say job growth jumped 5-10 percent. The new Indy stadium also hosted the Super Bowl in 2012.
Freeman says we need a facility like that one and more hotel rooms if Buffalo ever wants to host the big game.
Since 2011 these newer stadiums hosted the big game. At&T stadium did in 2011, in 2012 Lucas Oil Stadium got their turn, in 2014 fans flocked to Met Life Stadium, this year Levi’s Stadium hosted the Super Bowl and in 2018 we know the brand new stadium in Minneapolis that should open next year will host the big game.
Freeman believes a new year round facility is a better investment of taxpayer dollars. He said it could create jobs and be a better investment than the Ralph has been, “…at the Ralph there is no return on the investment,” said Freeman.
Erie county executive Mark Poloncarz disagrees with Freeman.
“It’s been a good investment. If we didn’t have that stadium we wouldn’t have a team,” said Poloncarz.
Temple University Economics professor Michael Leeds says that’s really all a stadium contributes to a city, it keeps a team in town and entertains fans. But Leeds says cities shouldn’t brag that new facilities will help the local economy long term.
“A football stadium would have roughly the same impact as a midsize department store,” said Leeds. “To the degree that people just want a professional sports team in town it could be worth it.”
We asked Brandon where he thinks is the best place for the Buffalo Bills, in Orchard Park, downtown or somewhere else?
Brandon said, “The only thing we’re focused on now is our stadium in Orchard Park.”
For now renovations continue at the Ralph. Brandon says when the day comes for a new plan he will have a different conversation with us but right now the focus is on building a better team that could play in a newer home as well one day.