by Pat Freeman
The passing of Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson has fueled speculation about the future home of the NFL franchise and there is much information to digest when it comes to understanding how such situations can best be dealt with in order to retain a franchise that may have attractive opportunities in other, competing cites. As the Greater Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Complex, LLC (GBSEC) has argued for the last two years, our community does not have the luxury of time in acting on a new facility to replace the antiquated, single sport stadium in Orchard Park. GBSEC has promoted a comprehensive plan to build a multi-use, multi-sport, conference, cultural and entertainment complex on the long vacant, public property known as the Outer Harbor. The plan and its economic model has been developed by HKS, Inc. of Dallas, a world leader in the field, and follows the legacy model of facilities HKS has built for the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, Minneapolis Vikings and the new urban sports and entertainment complex being planned in
HKS reviewed sites in Buffalo and the surrounding area and determined that a waterfront site in proximity to our Central Business District would provide us with the best opportunity to create the kind of economic engine needed for downtown and waterfront synergy. The economic model for the new complex would transcend the narrow and limited economic scope of a single purpose stadium and, like the Indianapolis model, would build an everyday use venue where the economic impact of professional football operations would be overshadowed by a hundred or more additional major events. As in Indianapolis, this new economic model is predicated on a community controlling such a facility and building new economies with other sporting events such as college football and basketball, soccer, entertainment events and mid to large size conventions and conferences. Under this plan, a professional sports franchise would lease space in the facility and receive brand enhancement opportunities in return. The brand of Buffalo, NY and the NFL would be upgraded and maximized – as well as the opportunities presented by closely integrating the Buffalo market with the expanded Ontario market through joint scheduling of future sporting events in soccer and potential Olympic competition.
The biggest challenge to a new way of thinking in WNY is the ingrained tendency to repeat the past with the creation of non-transparent committee structure, insider influence and lack of vision. Unfortunately, when it comes to pro sports, WNY taxpayers have always gotten the short end of the stick. Additionally, it’s tough to buck vested interests and political turf wars but the stark reality that the time needed to plan and build a suitable new facility together with the huge capital costs make it unlikely that, outside of a private sector initiative such as the GBSEC plan, the capital cost and commensurate implied public subsidy underpinning the approach of some local officials aligned with the current Bills’ ownership is simply not viable or timely.
The good news is abundant, however! GBSEC has been working closely with City of Buffalo officials and other elected officials to proceed with extending a crucial Outer Harbor Land Option to the development group. The Common Council has passed a unanimous resolution of support and has notified the NFL Stadium Committee and Commissioner Goodell that Buffalo intends to proceed with due diligence in partnership with HKS. While some critics of waterfront use for such a facility has argued for dedicated park space usage of the site, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes has advanced the idea that the site has abundant space to provide for both park & waterfront recreation use as well as space for building the proposed structures. The GBSEC proposal has always advocated that the facility be surrounded by a park setting and has also offered to finance the creation of an Olmstead inspired park. Clearly, the HKS/GBSEC private initiative plan offers all constituencies (taxpayers, park supporters, job seekers) with the best possible, realistic outcome. The specter of the stadium location fiasco some 50 years ago hangs over us again. Let’s let private competition be the basis of a decision and let’s vet the HKS plan NOW – with no cost to the taxpayer!
It seems to me that we need to send a clear message to Governor Andrew Cuomo on what the citizens of Western New York want to be done on it’s waterfront. Please Call Governor Cuomo beginning this Monday at 9AM and tell him that we the citizens of Western New York want him to support the New Downtown OuterHarbor Stadium Complex. ASAP!!!!! (518)474-8390.
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