AP Exclusive: Bills propose 60,000-seat stadium by 2027

Sports

FILE – In this Dec. 13, 2020, file photo, the stadium is mostly empty before an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Orchard Park, N.Y. A person with direct knowledge of discussions tells The Associated Press the cost of the Bills proposed new stadium is $1.4 billion; the stadium is to be built across the street from the team’s existing facility. The person spoke to The AP Thursday, Aug. 12, on the condition of anonymity because the details of proposal haven’t been made public. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills’ proposed new $1.4 billion stadium would include about 60,000 seats and 60 suites, The Associated Press has learned.

The Bills’ proposal includes a timeline for construction with a completion date pegged for no later than 2027 based on how quickly a deal can be struck, a person with direct knowledge of the documents presented to state and county officials told the AP on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

The team’s current lease expires in July 2023 and would be extended until the new facility is opened, should the project be approved by the state of New York and Erie County.

The proposed capacity is about 12,000 seats less than the Bills’ current facility, now called Highmark Stadium, which was built in 1973. The new venue would not include a roof, but it would be designed so that a majority of the seats would be protected from the elements, the person said.

The team initially considered a larger stadium with a price-tag of $1.6 billion before making a decision to shrink the project, the person said.

Discussions between the the Bills’ parent company, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, and government officials opened in late May, with the parties holding an on-site tour at the Bills’ aging home last week.

At issue is how quickly a deal can be approved, and how the construction costs would be split between the team and taxpayers. The Bills have already said team owners Terry and Kim Pegula are committed to sharing part of the cost, but have not identified how much.

The expectation is the state and county will be asked to cover more than 50% of the project, raising concerns about the potential for taxpayer funding.

PSE’s proposal is considered preliminary and subject to change based on discussions, with no renderings of the proposed facility having yet been submitted. Talks have been slowed in part because of New York’s change in governor, with Kathy Hochul taking over last week following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.

Hochul is from Buffalo, and has already had contact with PSE officials.

Her office released a statement to The AP on Monday which read: “No one is more committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo than Gov. Kathy Hochul, a long time Buffalo Bills fan. Negotiations are ongoing, and her administration looks forward to sharing details with the public as soon as negotiations are completed.”

The $1.6 billion cost of New York Giants and Jets’ shared facility of MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010, was entirely privately funded. The Minnesota Vikings’ $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016, had taxpayers fund 45.2% of the cost.

In Orchard Park, Highmark Stadium’s $22 million construction tab in the early 1970s was picked up entirely by taxpayers.

The Bills have ruled out the option of further renovations because they would be cost prohibitive in comparison to starting fresh.

More than $130 million was committed to renovations as part of the previous lease agreement struck in 2013. A state-commissioned study conducted a year later projected the next round of renovations would cost $540 million, with a majority of the work dedicated to essentially rebuilding the entire third deck. That cost is projected to be much higher in today’s dollars.

The Pegulas, who purchased the Bills in 2014, say they have spent an additional $146 million on capital and game-day and stadium-related expenses, which included suite upgrades, a new training facility and expansion of practice fields.

As part of a PSE-funded study launched in 2018, the team conducted an extensive analysis focusing on three potential stadium sites in and around Buffalo before opting to propose building the facility on a team-controlled parking lot across the street from its current home.

The two other locations considered were on the University at Buffalo campus north of the city, and a downtown site on the land where the abandoned Perry Projects sit empty. The projected cost of a downtown stadium came to $1.9 billion, not including necessary infrastructure upgrades, the person said.

PSE has since hired Legends Global Planning, a stadium consulting firm controlled by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the New York Yankees. Also hired was a division of the company, Legends Global Sales, to oversee selling sponsorships and seat licensing for the prospective new stadium.

PSE’s submission includes an economic impact study, which concludes the team generates $361 million annually to the regional economy.

Sports economists have pushed back on how much of an impact sports facilities have on local economies, and question whether taxpayers should share the burden of the costs. That especially involves NFL stadiums because of the limited number of dates they are open based on the NFL’s 17-game regular season schedule, University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said.

“The answer is zero: Sports stadiums are no catalysts for economic development,” Sanderson said. “They just largely enrich the team and the league and the owner of the franchise.”

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