The Buffalo Bills and local lawmakers signed a new lease this past December which holds the team in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park for the foreseeable future. The two sides also began making plans for a new stadium to replace the forty-plus-year old facility. Information is starting to leak out about those plans.
WGRZ in Buffalo is reporting via sources that there have been discussion - presumably on the lawmaker side of the negotiations - about four new sites for a replacement for "The Ralph". While the current location of the stadium is not discussed, it is likely that it will be in the final discussion but needs the least preliminary and infrastructure work.
The former Bethlehem Steel plant along the lakeshore in Lackawanna has been largely dormant since the plant closed in 1982. Small projects have utilized portions of the site but the plant's footprint is still largely available. There is one caveat; industrial waste has contaminated the site, with the Environmental Protection Agency saying it "poses a significant potential threat to human health and the environment." (Irony: so do the Bills.) If New York State - with help from the federal government - wanted to cross two problems off their list, paying to restore the site along with a new stadium would make some sense. Former Erie County Executive Bruce Fisher thinks the site is too far away from the current economic redevelopment projects in the works near downtown Buffalo.
The most discussed potential site, investors have been trumpeting a private convention center and stadium hybrid for months now. Like the Lackawanna site, it would capitalize on cheap land available on the waterfront. This plan is the furthest along of any of the other sites besides the current Orchard Park land.
The most attractive for Erie County and New York State economic development money, the stadium could be plunked down in the middle of the City of Buffalo. Restricted tailgating and difficulty parking would be major concerns but increased access to public transportation, ability to tap into existing utilities and sewer lines, and the development of the surrounding areas could outweigh those negatives in the minds of legislators. WGRZ's report suggests directly on the waterfront where failed redevelopment into a Bass Pro Shop and more have come and gone or a space near the old Larkin Building.
Called "the wild card" in WGRZ's report, this is the most problematic spot for local Buffalo lawmakers. Instead of Erie County, the new stadium and all the sales tax revenue would fall in Niagara County. Niagara would also be responsible for infrastructure upgrades and more. This is a plan that would need to come from the state as a way to enhance Upstate New York's largest tourist attraction and would likely prove a hard sell for Erie County legislators. It would decrease the travel time for Canadian fans and increase the driving distance from Rochester.
Absent in the discussions is the current team site where Ralph Wilson Stadium is located. It could be that WGRZ's sources were specifically talking about "new sites" and not just simply listing "potential sites". Many of the NFL's new stadiums have been built at the same site as the building they were replacing. Indianapolis, New Jersey, and Philadelphia have all built new stadiums at existing locations in the past decade and Chicago and Kansas City did extensive retrofits. Cowboys Stadium is the most notable exception while the Cardinals moved from their shared Sun Devil Stadium to a brand new location, as well.
Which location would you prefer, Bills fans?