Every generation or so, a community that is lucky enough to have a National Football League franchise has to face a crushing reality: its team needs a new stadium.
While stadiums seem like they've been around forever at times, they do get old and wear out. That's particularly true in this day and age, when standards for such buildings seem to change by the hour.
Remember when the Cowboys' old stadium, the one with the hole in the roof, was the latest thing? Not many games are taking place there now. NFL owners love their suites for business reasons, the more the merrier. Dallas is playing somewhere else now.
That brings us to the situation in Buffalo and Western New York.
There was talk about how to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium before the last lease was signed between the parties involved. Once that was settled, in the form of millions of dollars in renovations, the conversation immediately changed. There was no more discussion about how The Ralph was on its way to becoming Lambeau Field II in terms of history and tradition. Suddenly the clock started ticking on a facility that was headed for extinction, and what was needed to replace it.
To get to the point quickly, a new facility is not going to be cheap. It could cost something close to $1 billion, if everything associated with it (roads and other infrastructure, etc.) is added in. And the team is not going to pay for all of it.
The sides are already lining up here. The non-football fans can't understand why a penny of taxpayer money should be spent on a stadium. They don't know why such a huge subsidy for a private company is necessary. They see such areas as area schools and roads starving for financial support, while hundreds of millions may go to a football stadium used just a little more than 10 times a year. This is not an irrational position, especially for those who do something else on fall Sunday afternoons besides watch football.
The football fans know that National Football League franchises add much to the quality of life to their areas. What's more, you can't buy that sort of good publicity on a national baseis. That's Buffalo, linked with New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, etc., on a weekly basis in the fall. And if Western New York doesn't want to cough up the money for a new stadium, well, there are plenty of other cities that will jump on it.
If that weren't enough to throw into the mix, there are a couple of other huge factors floating around on this issue. How about public opinion? Politicians think that supporting a stadium is a winner for them. Yet do you think they are likely to put the issue up for a referendum? Not likely. Any major expenditure has a very good chance of getting voted down if it comes to that. Heck, school budgets in the suburbs sometimes lose, and there's no argument about the value of that particular matter.
Then there's the matter of a new stadium's location. In Western New York's case, such locations as Batavia and Niagara Falls have come up in an effort to regionalize the market. But usually, when a stadium is put in the middle of two markets and the team loses, it's a case of out of sight/out of mind. Richfield, Ohio, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a fine example of that. "Why should I drive an hour to Batavia to see the Bills lose again?"
The usual argument for building a stadium downtown somewhere is that the city can reap the benefits of some economic spin-offs. Supposedly, economic activity grows around it. On the other hand, the area around The Ralph isn't exactly Silicon Valley. The land around First Niagara Center downtown has seen some activity lately (finally!), but some of that is credited to a waterfront location - as Buffalo finally discovers that people like to hang out by the water when the weather is good.
One final thought for consideration - Buffalo actually was lucky with the timing of the old 15-year lease that expired a short time ago. If that lease was set to run out in 2015, the list of potential ownership candidates now might be populated with a bunch of rich guys who would want to buy the team in order to move it somewhere else. Thanks to a nicely written lease, that won't happen for several years.
Western New York got off easy in 1973 with Rich Stadium, which was something of a no-frills facility as these things go. It will be much tougher this time. I find it difficult to believe that a new stadium won't get built eventually, but the process is going to be complicated and perhaps a little ugly along the way.
As Van Miller used to say, fasten your seats. We've got years of a bumpy ride ahead.
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