Renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium are expected to top $200 million, according to a Buffalo News report published Sunday. Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon did not confirm the number in an interview with the newspaper, but said earlier reports of a $100 million renovation cost were too low.
"The number $100 million has surfaced somehow," Brandon told the News. "That was an uninformed, uneducated figure. That number did not come from us. This will be well north of that."
Brandon did disclose that three separate options were considered during the building review process. The team and their architectural firm looked at building a new stadium, renovating the current stadium, and "retrofitting" the current stadium. The idea of building a new stadium was quickly put aside due to logistical concerns of cost.
"When we looked at the new stadium, we rejected the concept for several reasons," Brandon said. "New stadiums cost anywhere from $800 million and north. What's usually involved is substantial public and fan participations, such as PSLs."
Personal seat licenses are a way for teams to generate significant dollars for stadium upgrades. Patrons are charged a large fee, typically thousands of dollars, for the right to purchase season tickets. Brandon didn't think the Buffalo market could sustain such a significant raise in season ticket prices.
The use of PSLs would likely also be needed for a stadium retrofit. In that concept, the existing building would be almost completely gutted with only limited pieces of the stadium remaining in tact. It would be cheaper than a completely new stadium, but still require a significant investment.
"In the retrofit, you're looking at $450 million to $500 million," Brandon said. "You're looking at huge public funds and bonds. Then you're looking again at PSLs and much higher ticket prices. We don't believe there's sufficient public support or sufficient fan interest in making that kind of investment."
The stadium renovation is the only option that wouldn't require seat licenses and would likely be entirely completed at taxpayer expense. The $200 million figure for a renovation is considerably cheaper than the $500 million for a retrofit or $800-plus million projected for a new stadium. The renovation would make the stadium more up to date, and the building more viable for the life of the next lease, a term of ten years.
"This renovation would be the first true renovation that would be really geared toward the entire fan base," Brandon said.
All fans will notice many of the changes made during the renovation, as space would be added to the stadium's footprint. While certain parts of the infrastructure would be updated and hidden, other improvements would be more visible. The gates would be moved out, and pathways around the stadium updated to create a more streamlined entrance and exit from the stadium. Inside the expanded gates, more gathering spaces and traveling room will also enhance in-stadium movement to restrooms and concession stands.
Some may balk at the $200 million cost to taxpayers, but the News notes that was the ultimate cost of Buffalo's last stadium upgrade when they signed the current lease.
"The last deal reached between the Bills and Erie County, a 15-year lease, called for a $63 million state-funded renovation and annual upgrades paid for by the county that have totaled $38.3 million," noted the article.
"The total cost of that deal to the public was $212 million, according to a Buffalo News calculation based on information provided by the state and the county. That includes construction costs, game day expenses, stadium maintenance, rent payments picked up by the state and annual payments to the Bills."
Brandon says the architectural study is close to completion. When that is finalized, the team will present it to county and state leaders in an effort to secure a ten-year lease and the money for stadium improvements.
"We have not made a proposal of any kind," Brandon said. "We have discussed and will continue to discuss the renovation concepts with them. We're confident we can come to a lease agreement that works for everybody involved."