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Buffalo Bills new stadium: Pegulas in “fact-finding mode”

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The Bills are still collecting information as they plan what to do with the future of their stadium.

The Buffalo Bills need to do something about their aging stadium. The team knows it, the owners said it when they bought the team, the NFL is pushing for it, and fans are bracing for it. That doesn’t mean anyone is going to rush into things.

“We’re in the fact-finding mode,” owner Kim Pegula told the Democrat and Chronicle. “We want to make sure we have all the information that is relative to our community, to our fan base. We’re not Atlanta, so it’s hard for us to say we’re going to build a stadium like Atlanta. We can’t. It’s not just a yes or no, it’s a lot more involved than that. We don’t talk about it now because we don’t have all the answers and we don’t want to get misconstrued because things change.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is currently being built at an estimated price tag of $1.4 billion. Atlanta is using local and state money in addition to charging up to $45,000 for Personal Seat Licenses. The Atlanta area is the eighth-largest designated market area in the country, though.

“We are the 53rd DMA in the country (Green Bay is No. 70),” said Bruce Popko, the executive vice-president of business and development for PSE. “Our realities are different than a lot of other markets. There are realities and real ceilings that everyone has to understand.”

There are financial limitations as well, as the Pegulas’ employees are readily willing to admit. But they aren’t talking about the team’s owners, they are talking about fans who plunk their hard-earned money down for tickets and can’t afford hefty Personal Seat Licenses.

“Just because we think the community should pay a quarter of a million dollars for a suite doesn’t mean the community is going to pay a quarter of a million dollars for a suite,” said Popko. “Having it in discussion is very different than the reality of a conversation when you’re sitting across from someone negotiating these types of deals.”

“When you look under the Christmas tree everyone wants brand-new toys, that’s easily said,” team president Russ Brandon said. “But when you go through the process and look to see exactly what makes sense for our community, that’s what we have to be very thoughtful of. With a new stadium comes a lot of things — public-private partnership, there’s PSLs (personal seat licenses), there’s cost increases across the board. We’ve been successful in Buffalo with a volume model; lot of seats in the building, lot of suites in the building, and we’ve been able to keep costs down because we’ve been able to manage a 43-year-old building and we’ve been able to do that very well. That equation, economically, changes with a new building.”

Brandon continued to echo Kim Pegula’s thoughts on taking a long look at the situation before making a decision, dating back several years to even before the Pegulas were the owners of the team.

“When you look back at the (2013-14) renovation, we took a very holistic approach to that,” said Brandon. “We looked at the new stadium model, the complete retrofit model, and the renovation model, and we came to the renovation number ($130 million) because we didn’t feel it made sense at the time (to build a new stadium), with everything that was on the horizon. We’re going to take the exact same approach with this and see what makes sense.”

It seems that for now, pragmatism will win out over pie-in-the-sky ideas. In the long run, that’s how you want hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent anyway.