One Bills Live host and Buffalobills.com reporter Chris Brown sat down with PSE executive Ron Raccuia to discuss the New Bills Stadium project. Here's what we learned from the conversation.
Q: You've secured a signed Memorandum of Understanding with New York State and received NFL approval for G-4 funding this week. What's the next step?
Ron Raccuia: Those were two great accomplishments. And we're grateful for Gov. Kathy Hochul, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Commissioner Goodell, and all of partners at New York State, Erie County and the NFL. As we said from the beginning, this would be a public-private partnership, and we've executed well on that thus far. The next step will be for the New York State Legislature to approve the funding in the upcoming New York State budget. After that the Erie County Legislature, within the next 30 days, will also have to vote to approve their funding.
Q: Assuming those parties push that through, what would the next steps to get to the construction phase?
RR: We will have multiple long form agreements that will have to be approved and agreed upon. Those include a lease extension at Highmark Stadium throughout the course of construction, a new lease agreement for the new Bills stadium, a project labor agreement, a construction coordination agreement, and a community benefits agreement. We anticipate working on all those documents and having them done no later than September 1st. At that point, once all the documents are complete and agreed upon, the project is full go.
Q: With respect to the project, what is the ultimate goal in terms of the kind of stadium you're looking to build? And how much different will it be than Highmark Stadium?
RR: We're going to build the best football stadium we possibly can for the Buffalo Bills and our fans. It will be state of the art and will have a great deal of modern amenities that we currently lack at Highmark Stadium. We do, however, want to maintain the intimacy, great sight lines and the amazing home field advantage and energy we currently have at Highmark Stadium. It will be a football specific stadium and we want to take advantage of all of the modern amenities, comfort, and technology available to us as we develop our plan with the architects.
Q: With respect to the people working on this project, who has been hired to work so far, and what's next in that process moving forward?
RR: We have hired Legends to work with us both as our project manager and as our sales and marketing agent to sell the assets of the new stadium. We have hired Populous to be our architect of record. We're in the process of finalizing our construction manager.
We've hired the best companies not just in stadium development or the United States, but the world. Their level of experience is unmatched. And we've made sure to surround ourselves with experts in every field going forward.
Q: We know that fans love to see renderings, so when do you anticipate plans or renderings to be shared?
RR: Hopefully sooner rather than later. Realistically, we're talking about a few more months. We may have some specific drawings that we can share on areas and concepts, but full-scale renderings will be sometime within the next few months.
Q: Speaking of the fans and the public at large, how will they participate in any part of the planning process?
RR: We've already started that process. We've had focus groups over the last couple of weeks with season ticket members, club seat holders, suite holders, corporate partners, community leaders, workers, staff, everyone that is part of our Bills family. Those will continue in some way, shape or form right through construction. This is an ongoing process.
Q: Business-wise what role might a group like 'Business Backs Buffalo Football' play in the process?
RR: The 'Business Backs Buffalo Football' group was formed by 20 to 30 local businesspeople, community leaders who really cared about how to make the Bills sustainable and successful in Western New York long term. They've invested a lot of time and energy in trying to help us develop our market, not just here in Western New York, but throughout Rochester, Syracuse, Southern Ontario. They're involved in a lot of discussions with us both from a business standpoint, but also from a community standpoint. They've provided great recommendations on the community benefits agreements and how we can best engage the community. We're very thankful for them. We're thankful for their energy, their diversity, and their willingness to help us. It has been fantastic for the team and the organization, not just with the stadium, but with their vision for how we will operate going forward in our marketplace.
Q: It's probably a long way off, but from more of a direct customer base standpoint, how will season ticket holder accounts transfer to the new stadium knowing the seating configurations are likely to be different?
RR: We'll have an entire plan laid out well in advance for our season ticket members. Not only will they have all the information, but they'll be also part of the process. We'll be communicating with them on a regular basis. It's still too early at this point to provide any specific details.
Q: Personal Seat Licenses are often a topic with new stadiums. Will they be part of the financing for the stadium project and if so, how much more money will season ticket holders be required to pay just to have the right to buy a season ticket for that particular seat?
RR: We're always very aware of the market limitations and not over pricing our fans, especially as we move into a new stadium. PSLs are an integral part of every new stadium construction project. They will be part of our project as well, but we will never get to the point where we price our fans out of attending our games. As I said earlier, the most important thing for us is to create the best homefield advantage we possibly can.
Q: How will the capacity of the new stadium compare to Highmark Stadium?
RR: Most every new stadium that's been built, not just in football, but throughout all of sports has had reduced capacity. The reason for reduced capacity is to create a better in-venue experience. Bigger seats, larger concourses, more intimacy, as we discussed. All those things are critical for a new stadium and to do that, capacity does go down. The amenities that our fans have told us that they would like are more temperature-controlled spaces, more variety on food and beverage, more gathering spaces where they can congregate together. All of that translates to a bigger facility and a lower capacity in the number of seats. In terms of the exact breakdown of seating, we're still working through that process.
Q: Why Orchard Park instead of downtown Buffalo or other locations?
RR: We've done extensive studies. We did look at downtown. We also looked at Amherst, and we determined that the best place for the new stadium would be in Orchard Park across from the existing stadium. Those other two locations required significantly more dollars and significantly longer lead time. And in the case of downtown, it would also require the displacement of many residents, which we were not in favor of and not looking to do.
Q: What should we expect to be the first regular season played in the new stadium?
RR: Opening Day 2026.
Q: Will construction impact parking or gameday operations this coming season in the existing stadium?
RR: No, we don't anticipate any disruption in the game day experience for the 2022 season because of construction.
Q: Finally, what will happen to the old stadium?
RR: That's still to be determined and will be discussed moving forward. Stay tuned.