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Freeman, Termini fuel Bills stadium speculation

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Patrick Freeman addressed the City of Buffalo’s Common Council six months ago, appealing for the city to opt against renewing the Ralph Wilson Stadium lease and instead shift its attention to building an indoor-outdoor, multipurpose stadium—Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Center—on the waterfront.

Today, Freeman’s more-developed proposal is being heard in front of a greater audience in the Council Chamber. Here are Channel 4 News reporter Lou Raguse’s tweets directly from the meeting:

Raguse continues to report that Freeman’s group needs New York State governor Andrew Cuomo to commit to funding 30% of the project (roughly $400 million over 30 years). It’s unnerving that the contributing sponsors—who would fork over $900 million of the proposed cost—are still unnamed, but this alternative stadium possibility is refreshing in light of the recent negative press over the Bills’ current lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Convincing the Common Council is only the first step for Freeman, however, as Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Cuomo must be persuaded next if this proposal is to get any legs. Abreast of the Common Council session, Poloncarz issued a statement:

“We are pleased that there is so much interest in keeping the Buffalo Bills in our community. However, we were not contacted by the proponents of this latest plan to discuss the matter. We look forward to discussion and debate when our negotiations are complete and the proposal to keep the Bills in our community is presented to the public for consideration and to the Erie County Legislature for its approval.

In regards to the proposal released today, as we have noted before, there are several problems with the proposed Outer Harbor site, such as a lack of space needed for parking, distance from the downtown core, and insufficient road infrastructure (particularly in bad weather) to accommodate the thousands of fans heading to the site. Just this morning, we witnessed the Skyway being closed due to an accident, which resulted in traffic delays of 1-2 hours from the Skyway back to Hamburg; the Skyway currently serves as the only access point to this site.

As we have stated in the past, we will continue to work on negotiating a lease with the Buffalo Bills at their current home in Orchard Park, which the Bills have indicated they do not want to leave. While these ongoing negotiations have been productive, we will not be discussing their content in the media.”

The waterfront land needs to be purchased from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which could be a significant hurdle. Also, the Bills as an organization can dictate where they’re going to play, and the immediate focus remains on finding a cost-effective way to renovate the Ralph. Still, if a new stadium won’t cost taxpayers, and Freeman’s investors can pony up nearly a billion dollars, then why not relocate the Bills downtown?

Trending Buffalo’s Brad Riter has been outspoken in his support of the downtown stadium, defining a new facility as vital to keeping the Bills in Buffalo. Not only would the Bills’ presence at the Outer Harbor serve as a more welcoming substitute for Bass Pro (cue avalanche of groans), Riter argues, but Buffalo’s new facility would be on par with or superior to other Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Other major Buffalo figures, however, don’t think downtown is the best location. Developer Rocco Termini, who renovated the Hotel at the Lafayette, suggested to WGRZ that the Bills consider Hamilton, Ontario as the team’s next destination, citing closer proximity to major corporate headquarters in Toronto that would (presumably) snatch up more luxury suites. The brush-back has been considerable to Termini’s advice, as the Bills’ relocation to Hamilton would be little different than a move to Toronto—exactly what die-hard Bills fans want to avoid.

The header photo, a product of HKS Sports and Entertainment (via WGRZ), is a representation of what the downtown stadium would look like along the Outer Harbor. Artvoice’s Chris Smith lends greater depth into what the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Center would look like. Alan Bedenko, also of Artvoice, weighs the pros and cons of the “silveriest, bulletiest” proposal of them all.

As part of the $1.4 billion stadium project, the investor group plans to add a sports museum intimately connected with the Strong National Museum of Play. Announcements are coming at 10 a.m. Wednesday with further details.

TAGGED: buffalo bills, downtown stadium, hks sports and entertainment, patrick freeman, rocco termini, waterfront stadium

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