By R.V. Baugus
The Buffalo Bills have some of the most ardent and passionate fans in all of the National Football League. They have supported the Bills through thick and thin, which has mostly been thin until recent years when Josh Allen and company have the team on the brink of the Super Bowl.
Give the hearty fans credit as well for supporting their team in what is often brutal weather in Buffalo winters. When the stadium opens, the fans come.
Now, Erie County has released a site plan detailing the initial concept for a new $1.4 billion stadium for the team.
While a specific design of the new stadium, which is currently being worked on by architect of record Populous, is not yet available, the site concept details how 283.42 acres of land will be used for the proposed facility, which will seat at least 60,000 people.
The plans have been released as Erie County begins its State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). The SEQR Act requires that all state and local government agencies consider potential environmental impacts and social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making processes.
The SEQR process examines potential environmental impacts and social and economic considerations related to a proposed action and encourages communication among government agencies, project sponsors and the general public.
The site concept shows how the new stadium will be built across the road from the Bills’ current home, Highmark Stadium, on land which is currently occupied by parking lots. A large plaza is part of the plan, along with a new operations building and a host of new parking lots.
The plans detail how nearly 56 acres of land currently used by SUNY Erie Community College’s South Campus will be taken over. However, officials have offered assurances that none of the buildings will be affected.
“The plans are such that there would not be a building at the college taken,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told local broadcaster Spectrum News. “A lot of people thought they would have to demolish buildings at the college. We said, ‘no, we know we don’t have to do that.’ And the site plan that was released shows that.
“The stadium and the parking lot that is a result of this new construction do not need to take any building at that site. It is exactly what I said it would be. And it is important for the public to see what we said was going to happen is going to happen.”
Highmark Stadium opened in 1973. Following the opening of the new facility, the Bills’ current home is expected to be demolished and redeveloped as a large parking lot. The SEQR process is expected to take around six months to complete and, in the meantime, a public scoping meeting will be held on July 14 to garner public input on the scope of the project review.
The Bills in April appointed Legends to lead planning, project management, sales and partnerships for the stadium project.
Legends, the global premium experiences company, had already commenced work on the project having assisted the team and ownership group Pegula Sports & Entertainment on a feasibility study. It has also conducted initial focus groups and surveys to help inform design and sales for the stadium, which could be finished as early as 2026.
Earlier that month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul sealed a deal on a state budget that will include $600m in contributions to a new Bills home that is set to receive the greatest level of public funding for a single stadium in US history.
The conclusion of the deal came after the franchise in March reached an agreement with New York State and Erie County to build a new stadium in Orchard Park. Hochul secured a 30-year commitment for the Bills to remain in Buffalo.
New York State will commit $600 million towards the new stadium project, with Erie County to provide $250 million. The NFL and the Bills will provide the remaining $550 million needed to build the new stadium, work on which is hoped to commence in the spring of 2023.