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To build new or renovate: Buffalo Bills stadium talk

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Terry Pegula said the new Bills stadium will have a “Buffalo style.”

New Era Field, the home of the Buffalo Bills, debuted before the 1973 season as brand-new Rich Stadium, and when the stadium was built, it was a state-of-the-art 80,000-person facility located in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Times have changed. After 45 seasons, the future of New Era Field is up in the air. Of course, the original facility is still in use, and has received several face-lifts over the years, including $57 million in improvements in 1998, and, more recently, $130 million in renovations in 2012.

Most of the NFL’s owners would love for owners Terry and Kim Pegula to build a brand-new, state-of-the-art stadium in Western New York. The new stadium would allow even more money to flow into the pockets of the league’s billionaire owners.

The topic of whether the Bills will build a new stadium or renovate New Era Field has been widely discussed, and during a recent sit-down interview with reporters, Terry Pegula, co-owner of the Bills, offered some clarity into the situation.

“I think the answer is probably a scaled-down version of some of these palaces that are being built around the country,” Pegula told reporters during the NFL owners’ meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. “The thing [Los Angeles Rams owner] Stan [Kroenke] is building in L.A. is amazing, Jerry Jones’ facility in Dallas. So we need to do something that’s Buffalo style.”

Pegula Sports and Entertainment [PSE] have employed sports consulting firm CAA ICON to “conduct a privately-funded study to help identify the best options for ownership, fans and the community” into the next steps for the Buffalo Bills stadium needs and for potential renovations of KeyBank Center, the home of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits.

While Pegula mentioned the new football palaces being built for the Rams and Jerry World, the exorbitant and lavish new home for the Dallas Cowboys, as comparative examples of new stadiums in the league, he didn’t fully commit to whether Buffalo should build a new stadium over renovating New Era Field.

During the owners’ meetings, Pegula praised the “pretty extensive” work being done during the market research study PSE commissioned from CAA ICON, and said he was excited to dive into the results of the study, which should be available in the summer.

“I can’t comment on what the results are because I don’t know. We have dribs and drabs of what they’ve seen so far, but we’re open to any option and we’ll see what the market study says. ... We’re waiting for our study to come out to see what all they tell us what our market can support,” Terry Pegula said.

A survey recently went out to Buffalo Bills season ticket holders and fans alike, taking their pulse on the stadium topic. Kim Pegula, Terry’s wife and the co-owner and president of the Bills and Sabres, reported that more than 30,000 people took the time to respond to the survey.

“The hockey and the football side have both really come out, had a say in what they’re looking for, as well as our corporate partners,” said Kim Pegula, adding that focus groups have been providing feedback on what PSE should do regarding its football and hockey facilities.

As far as costs go, neither of the Pegulas was able to provide much insight into how much of a new stadium would be funded by taxpayer money, and how much would come out of their own personal wealth.

“One of the owners of ICON really very much opened my eyes when he said, ‘Listen, this is going to be one of the biggest, most impactful projects to come in almost 50 years by the time we get around to it.’ He said, ‘Just make sure you keep your eyes wide open. I know we all came in with some preconceived ideas of what it might look like, how much it might cost, where it should go, all those things. Listen, keep your eyes, your ears, your head wide open because this is going to be a game-changer for Western New York. So I’m not going to put any numbers, anything on it,” said Kim Pegula.

The notion of a domed stadium in Western New York—where playing in the unpredictable elements ranging from whipping winds to a driving snowstorm has provided home field advantage for Buffalo—has long been met with skepticism among loyal Bills fans. Terry Pegula was approached about the topic of a domed stadium. While he initially shot down the concept of a domed stadium for his Bills, he eventually changed course, saying “we’ll see what the study says. It’s all about what we think our fans want, what they would prefer.”

“We’re one of the smaller markets and any way we can increase our revenue, they’re for it,” Terry Pegula said when asked about the pressure coming from the NFL for Buffalo to build a new stadium.

With a capacity of 71,608, New Era Field ranks 11th in terms of largest capacity crowds. The Bills’ current lease at New Era Field runs through the 2022 season and ends in the summer of 2023. The team has the opportunity to opt out in 2020.