WUFO’s sports director advocates new stadium in downtown Buffalo
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • April 10, 2012 @ 3:29pm
WUFO sports director Patrick Freeman, known as the “Mighty O’Ba” on MIX 1080 AM, made a plea to the Common Council for the Buffalo Bills to relocate to a new downtown stadium rather than funnel more money into renewing the lease with Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.
Using his research on Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008 to host the NFL’s Colts, other major city events and Super Bowl XLVI, Freeman argued that it was imperative for a new multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof to be built in downtown Buffalo to replace the “outdated” Ralph Wilson Stadium.
He explained that, from the information he gathered, Indianapolis earned $2.25 million in revenue from the new stadium, added 4,200 new jobs and resulted in 4,700 new hotel rooms in downtown Indy. The move would not be just for the betterment of the football team, but the city’s economy as a whole.
“The building of a stadium in downtown Buffalo is one decision that changes the landscape of opportunity,” said Freeman, who was invited to speak by Council majority leader Demone A. Smith, in front of the council. “We are not just talking about a new home for the Buffalo Bills, but a facility with a retractable roof that can be used year-round for a variety of events. This is a multi-use stadium project that will attract various conventions, concerts, festivals and trade shows to Western New York.”
The Common Council immediately voiced concerns about Freeman’s plan, as council member David A. Franczyk asked how much a new stadium would cost, while Richard Fontana wondered how moving into a more cramped downtown location would impact the game experience as a whole (i.e. tailgating, parking, downtown traffic, etc).
The WUFO host estimated that a new stadium would demand $730 million at a minimum—Lucas Oil Stadium totaled $720 million almost four years ago—but also contrasted that expense against spending well over $100 million to renew the lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium, plus required renovations. (Read this Buffalo Rumblings post for greater financial details about renovations and the lease).
Council member Joseph Golombek Jr. spoke favorably of Freeman’s plan, admitting that a stadium in downtown Buffalo would “help the city save face from past mistakes” like losing the University at Buffalo to Amherst and Ralph Wilson Stadium to Orchard Park. Golombek also mused about how a stadium near the waterfront could be a boon for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, as fans could take buses or trains to watch the Bills, reducing the risk of DUIs and DWIs that have plagued post-game Orchard Park for years.
“We forget to recognize the importance of the urban center,” Golombek said. “The urban core really needs to be strong.”
With the prospect of the Bills bolting from Buffalo growing with Ralph Wilson’s age, Freeman mentioned that he’d spoken with an “interested group of investors” who would demand a downtown stadium with a retractable roof if they were to purchase the team.
Hypothetically, if the Bills do cut ties with Orchard Park and opt for a new city stadium—on the waterfront, perhaps—Jamestown-born NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could prove a useful ally. The league loaned $200 million to the San Francisco 49ers to help fund a new venue to replace archaic Candlestick Park.
Selling Erie County on moving the team from Orchard Park to downtown Buffalo, maneuvering financially to afford $730 million or more and preventing congestion in the city on Sundays are just a few of the barriers standing in the way. Plus, would the Bills even be amenable to the change?
“This stadium is beyond special,” Bills’ Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon said to the Buffalo News of the Bills’ current confines in October 2011. “This stadium has the best sightlines in the NFL, bar none. The sightlines and the great experience we have outside the stadium are the foundation of what we are.”
To move forward, Freeman, who also contributes to the buffalo bullet blog and is a finalist in the Buffalo Excellence in Media Awards (BEMAs), wants high-level decision-makers to hear his pitch. He aims to elaborate on his plan in front of the Erie County Legislature, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and eventually New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“Bring us to the table,” the radio host said. “The ideas here are simple, and there will be no raised taxes [for the public.]”