The Buffalo Bills stadium deal is one step closer to full approval.
By a 32-0 vote Wednesday afternoon at National Football League meetings in Dallas, the owners approved two key elements of the deal: a year-to-year extension of the Bills’ lease at Highmark Stadium in ‘Orchard Park, and a 30-year extension. one-year lease contract for a new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2026.
How will the experience of attending a match at this new stadium – which will open in 2026, if negotiations and construction schedules remain on track – vary from a match day at Highmark Stadium?
Construction of the new stadium, which will cost at least $1.4 billion and will be located opposite Highmark, is expected to begin next year. The stadium is funded by a $600 million contribution from New York State, $250 million from Erie County, and at least $550 million from the Bills and the NFL.
All parties involved are still finalizing the agreement. The main terms of the agreement were announced in March and outlined in a 15-page memorandum of understanding.
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The deal includes a no-move clause that Governor Kathy Hochul called “ironclad” when announcing the deal. If the team were to leave Buffalo during the first 14 years of the lease, it would have to repay all public contributions and also cover stadium demolition costs. From the 15th to the 30th year, the financial penalty decreases to reach zero in the last year of the lease. However, the state could still require the team to pay for the demolition of the stadium.
“I said, ‘I want it to be ironclad that if we’re going to make this commitment, that they have to stay'” Hochul said in the spring.
Community advocates feel left out of negotiations for a community benefits agreement tied to the new $1.4 billion Buffalo Bills stadium planned for Orchard Park.
All signs point to the likelihood that the full deal will be closed soon. Negotiations on a community benefits agreement, which outlines how the Bills organization will reinvest in the community, have made significant progress, and Erie County Legislative Speaker April Baskin expressed optimism as to the forthcoming conclusion of conditions in this regard. She said the latest proposal received from the CBA Bills was positive.
More than 500 representatives attended meetings for interested contractors, vendors, suppliers and professional service providers in Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany over the past month. That doesn’t include the standing crowd attending Tuesday’s meeting — the second in Buffalo since November — at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.
Neither Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz nor Erie County District Attorney Jeremy Toth has dismissed the idea of a deal being reached before the new year. Toth recently told county lawmakers it was “optimistic,” but not impossible. Various county officials involved in the negotiations said significant progress had been made in recent weeks.
However, the construction agreement, which specifies who will be eligible to build the new stadium, and the terms under which they will be hired and work, is still under discussion.
The new stadium will be markedly different from Highmark, which will be demolished and become a space for parking or pre-game activities. The new facility will seat just over 60,000, about 10,000 less than the current stadium.
Although the new stadium is an outdoor facility, it is designed to be drier and likely warmer than Highmark, which was built in the early 1970s and has an open-bowl layout. The new stadium will be more vertical, with a perforated metal exterior designed to absorb and disperse some of the strong winds that blow in from the Great Lakes. A partial roof, or canopy, is also designed to deflect some of the wind and avoid the swirling effect which, especially in cold weather, chills fans and sometimes makes life difficult for kickers and quarterbacks.
The canopy, in combination with the stacked levels which provide overhangs for those seated below, is expected to cover around 65% of the seats in the new stadium.
“The canopy is an important part of keeping people dry, as well as the halls,” said Scott Radecic, architectural engineer and principal of Populous, the Kansas City company designing the Bills’ new stadium.
These halls will be built with an open design that will allow fans to see onto the pitch while queuing at the concession stands, which will be located along the outside wall of the stadium. (At Highmark, concessions are located on the inside wall of the halls.)
“Another of the big design moves was wanting to create a visual connection with the terrain,” Radecic said.
These features and amenities — along with club seating options, some overhead heaters, standing room areas, and bar and social gathering spaces — will be included in the sales pitch when the Bills and their consultants de stadium, Legends, will begin marketing sponsorships, premium seats and personal seat licenses, which could begin as early as late winter or spring 2023.
Bills are responsible for any cost overruns, meaning the team’s total investment in the stadium could ultimately exceed the $550 million included in the deal’s original plan. A significant portion of the Bills’ contribution is funded through the NFL’s G4 Stadium loan fund program and the sale of personal seat licenses.
PSLs, as they called it, are a one-time expense. They give fans the option and the obligation to purchase subscriptions each year. The ticket sale for the new stadium is the first time PSLs will be used in the Buffalo market.
Ron Raccuia, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Bills, told The News in an interview last year that PSLs are “crucially important as we embark on this project, especially on a market like Buffalo, where we don’t have the ability to raise (ticket) prices like other markets have.”
He added that the PSLs — some of which will likely cost less than $1,000 — also offer reassurance that fans will remain long-term customers.
“They help retain fans,” he said. “Most fans who have a PSL associated with their seat, no matter how small, the likelihood of them keeping their subscriptions on a retention basis increases exponentially.”
Staff reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this article