By Zachary Phillips
A new report from AECOM recommends that the NFL’s Buffalo Bills build a new stadium, rather than renovate their existing Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.
Renovating the existing stadium would cost an estimated $862 million, compared to the $1.35 billion estimated for a new build, according to the report commissioned by Empire State Development.
A new stadium should be built in the place of the current one, AECOM recommended, as constructing a venue in downtown Buffalo would cost approximately $2.1 billion or more.
The Bills, whose open-air Highmark Stadium is nearly 50 years old, have considered building a new stadium for years. The venue is the fourth oldest active stadium in the NFL, behind only the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field, the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bills’ lease expires in 2023, and in August, before the regular NFL season began, the franchise submitted plans to the city for a $1.4 billion, 60,000-seat stadium to be built by 2027, the Associated Press reported. The submission has led to debates about where that money should come from. Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula said they are committed to shouldering part of the cost, but have not identified how much. At least some of the funding would come from taxpayer money.
The report, released Nov. 1, urged for the construction of a new venue, and cautioned against renovating the current one, as doing so could cost more than 60% of the price of building new. Additionally, renovations often have a general lifespan of 10 to 15 years, compared to a new stadium, which often has a 30-year lifespan before requiring upgrades.
The higher costs for building at a new, downtown site are attributed to the need to construct and improve leveled parking facilities, highway interchanges and other infrastructure upgrades.
Downtown vs. Orchard Park
AECOM’s report estimated a downtown stadium could add additional $350 million in total project cost, not including the potential high price tag of relocating residents and businesses. The Bills could also potentially need to pay an additional $300 million to include a roof for the stadium to address orientation issues for the field. Many NFL stadium fields run north to south so players are not hindered by sunlight, though it is not an explicit rule. If the Bills needed to construct their new downtown site stadium running east to west, they could need a dome to protect players.
Nevertheless, building on a new site could mean more cash for the city and government. The report researched the ancillary development around the Orchard Park site, estimating that a downtown site selected by the Bills could potentially attract development to an area that has not seen any recently. A downtown site could provide an estimated $53 million in tax revenue over the next 30 years.
The report assumes that the new stadium will be open-air and have:
A capacity of at least 60,000 seats.
Approximately 60 private suites, each with 16 seats.
Approximately 60 loge boxes, each with four to eight seats.
5,000 to 6,000 club seats, with enclosed and conditioned club spaces to accommodate patrons.
Improved access to the playing surface for trucks and equipment.
Improved locker rooms and facilities.
If the price tag estimate is accurate, and Bills build the $1.35 billion stadium at the current Orchard Park site, it would become the 11th most expensive stadium ever built, according to a report from March 2021. Building downtown with the $2.1 billion estimate would make it the third most expensive.
Zachary Phillips is Associate Editor of Construction Dive.