The proposal to build a covered stadium on the outer harbor faces long yardage.
The National Football League called the developers’ game plan into question Tuesday, as the proposal landed with a thud in front of several key lawmakers, the Buffalo Bills and the county executive.
The developers – who want to build a 72,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium that would double as a convention center – assert that getting an option on waterfront property from the city and working with Dallas-based HKS, the foremost football stadium builder, would gain the NFL’s endorsement and ensure that the Bills stay in Buffalo, even without the team’s participation in the project.
But Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, said that it doesn’t work that way.
“We haven’t considered a proposal without club support,” McCarthy said.
The Bills have shown no interest in the proposed stadium, nor have they been approached. A Bills spokesman said the team is focused on continuing talks with county and state officials to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park and extend its lease.
Meanwhile, politicians cast doubt on the wisdom of putting a stadium on the outer harbor, which is beginning to spring to life after decades of inattention.
“Obviously, an innovative idea requires a rigorous public discussion, but I think the waterfront is the wrong place for this,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. “A stadium is not water-dependent or water-enhanced. People have been denied access to the waterfront for 50 years, and those days are over.”
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said that limited infrastructure at the site makes the proposal a nonstarter. “There are several problems … 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.”
Mayor Byron W. Brown took an arms-length approach to the proposal, even as he applauded the developers for their initiative. “I think many of us in Buffalo would certainly love to see a domed, retractable stadium in downtown Buffalo somewhere, but it’s premature to say that this is something that could be a reality,” Brown said.
“What is real is the ongoing lease negotiations with the county and the state and the Bills organization.”
Nicholas J. Stracick and George F. Hasiotis, development partners in Greater Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Complex, say the mixed-use project will cost a total of $1.4 billion. They say a public-private partnership would be necessary, with the state kicking in about $400 million.
Stracick said he has spent $250,000 on the project, including the cost of a preliminary site plan developed by HKS.
The developers haven’t attempted to measure what the public wants on the outer harbor. Jill M. Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, said the stadium proposal should be reviewed within the planning process already in place for the outer harbor. She also suggested that it should be considered part of a larger vision for the waterfront.
“Through this process, the outer harbor has emerged as a high-priority area to retain permanent public open space, and a proposed development should respect the community’s desire,” Jedlicka said.
Members of the Common Council’s Community Development Committee listened to the developers’ proposal Tuesday and asked about its practicality – from where people would park to what the tailgating experience would be like.
“I think big ideas are great things,” said Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk. “The notion of a big plan and a big idea is excellent. I’d love to see the Buffalo Bills back in the City of Buffalo, where they used to be.”
Franczyk said that he was encouraged that Rochester-based Strong Museum has shown interest in building a North American Museum of Sports and Culture but that the project would need support from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Higgins and Poloncarz.
Council President Richard A. Fontana, of the Lovejoy District, said the project could be “very exciting” for the waterfront. “I think before another penny is spent on the stadium in Orchard Park, this idea should be fully fleshed out,” Fontana said, adding that the proposal would need to have the Bills and fans onboard.
Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera raised doubts about access to the outer harbor, saying that there are many questions in need of answers. But he also offered praise for the developers’ “vision, passion and wanting to keep the Bills here.”
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