Gone will be the concrete barriers and chain-link fence that greet fans as they enter Ralph Wilson Stadium from Abbott Road. Vending carts that clog concourses during halftime will disappear. Dead space on the 300 Level will be a thing of the past.
In their place will be a luminous glass team store designed to create a focal point on Abbott Road, an outdoor plaza that will funnel fans into the stadium and clearer concourses that offer more places to buy food and drinks.
All are part of a $130 million renovation proposed for Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park that aims to erase some of the nuisances of going to the game – from the long lines at the gates to the touchdown you miss while you’re in the restroom.
The centerpiece of the project will be the 8,000-square-foot team store on Abbott Road that will mark the entrance to a new pedestrian plaza at the front of the stadium. The store – envisioned to include a modern glass design with elements reminiscent of the Old Rock Pile – will help create a “new front door” and boost the “curb appeal” of the 40-year-old home of the Buffalo Bills.
“We want it to glow and light up at night,” said architect Scott Radecic, a former Bills linebacker who is now senior principal at Populous. “We want it to be a beacon along Abbott Road. We want people to know and to be obvious about what it is. We want to reinforce the Bills brand when people are passing by the stadium.”
Populous, selected by the team to design the stadium upgrades, Thursday gave Erie County legislators their first in-depth glimpse into what a $95 million state and county investment into the county-owned stadium renovation will buy.
One of the main goals, Radecic said, is to improve the ways fans move in and out of the stadium by pushing the entrance gates 75 to 100 feet out and creating an outdoor space around the stadium for fans. Radecic said discussions are still under way with concessionaire Delaware North Cos. to determine what amenities could be added to that area to connect fans to the game.
“You’ve got all that space to circulate once you get inside the perimeter,” Radecic said. “Right now, once you get in, you have to immediately get up to your seat, go right down, and there’s no space to mingle.”
A chain-link fence around the stadium will be replaced with new fencing that will create better views into the complex, and more lanes will be added that will more clearly define how people line up as they enter the ticket gates.
Inside the stadium, the renovations will focus on redesigning existing space to create more places to sell food and beverages, upgrade restrooms and clear portable vending stands that create backups in the concourses.
While improving the way fans move through the stadium was a priority, Bills executives ruled out a more expensive “retrofit” of the stadium that could have widened concourses to alleviate congestion. Instead, they will add more fan space with “destination concessions” to the east end zone by expanding into an area on the 100 Level that currently houses administrative space. Four barren promenade areas on the 300 Level that now are mostly empty during the games will get concession stands and will become more accessible. Some concourse areas also will get radiant heaters, improved lighting and better signs.
“We want to be able to provide some areas where we can actually heat the concourses so that people get a little bit of relief on the really frigid days,” Radecic said.
Fans also will notice technology upgrades in the stadium that could allow them to access wireless Internet and provide the ability for cellphone companies to boost coverage during the games. A new high-definition video scoreboard will replace the existing scoreboard on the west end of the stadium, allowing the older scoreboard to be split into two video boards that will sit atop indoor club seating areas on the east end, Radecic said. A third video screen will stretch across the top of suites at the stadium’s east end.
Updated infrastructure to pipe data throughout the stadium also will allow the team to add high-definition television screens throughout the concourses and to pump game sound into restrooms. “Technology is changing the way people experience a game today,” Radecic said. “It’s one of the fastest moving elements of the whole participating in an NFL game experience.”
The project – which has a long list of other changes that include safety upgrades, work to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, infrastructure repairs and a new commissary building – is part of a 10-year lease deal negotiated by the Bills, New York State and Erie County.
The proposed lease, which still needs approval from the County Legislature and the group of team owners in the National Football League, would require the team to pay a $400 million buyout if the Bills leave during the first seven years.
The cost to the state and the county is expected to be about $226 million during the 10-year lease, including the renovations, team subsidies and other annual payments.
Asked about the lifespan of the stadium after renovations are complete, Bills CEO Russ Brandon told legislators that it would need to be a community decision about whether it makes sense to build a new stadium or renovate the existing facility beyond the next decade.
“Those are the kind of decisions we need to make as a community moving forward,” Brandon said. “But I’m very comfortable that this stadium can continue to prosper with the renovations that have taken place in the past and in the future.”