State hires California firm to study sites for new Bills stadium - The Buffalo News
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State hires California firm to study sites for new Bills stadium

ALBANY – A California architectural and planning firm has been tapped by the Cuomo administration to quickly begin scouting locations for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, and to come up with a detailed, financial feasibility report in just two months for up to four possible sites in Western New York.

AECOM, a Fortune 500 company that has worked on numerous professional, college and Olympic stadium projects, will begin Monday to identify and review potential stadium sites. The state hopes to use the resulting economic impact report to persuade the next owners of the Bills to remain in Western New York, according to information obtained by The Buffalo News on Tuesday.

The location scouts will confine their work to the “Buffalo region” – avoiding Ontario – to develop detailed projections on everything from the number of seats to how to incorporate a new football facility into other economic development projects in a community.

Sources close to the effort said the company could look at a dozen sites before reducing the list to a “workable” three or four new locations. The company also is charged with doing an economic analysis of keeping the Bills in their current stadium in Orchard Park.

Site visits by AECOM executives will start Monday and conclude June 17, with a draft report due to the state by June 17 and a final report by July 11.

The work is being fast-tracked because of the effort by the trust of the estate of the team’s longtime owner, the late Ralph C. Wilson Jr., to sell the team, possibly as soon as this year. It also comes after the state, county, team and National Football League last year approved a new stadium lease to keep the Bills in Buffalo for 10 years, though there is an escape clause in the contract’s seventh year.

The state’s work with AECOM, as well as the Buffalo News’ report last week of the rehiring by the state of a Manhattan law firm to represent its interests in Bills’ matters, shows a growing interest in making sure the team does not slip away from New York under new owners.

The Cuomo administration is hoping to negotiate a new stadium lease deal with the next team’s owners with terms as long as 30 years.

“We want to present a long-term solution that will keep the Bills in Western New York for decades to come. Someone is going to buy the team, and we want them to have the best information available in order to give them confidence in the region and the widespread support the team has,” said Irwin Raij, co-chairman of the Sports Practice legal team at Foley & Lardner, which represented the state during the 2012-2013 stadium lease negotiations and was recently retained again by the state.

The audience for the report is not only Cuomo and Erie County – so officials can know the economic and financial implications of any new stadium project – but also buyers of the team and the NFL, whose owners have to approve the sale of the team.

For the state, keeping the Bills in Western New York was a major prize when it secured its deal with Wilson last year. That pact included a $400 million penalty if the team – and any future owners – leaves the region within the deal’s 10 years, with the exception of a cheap escape clause during year seven of the contract.

Now, as he faces re-election this fall, Cuomo has realized the growing importance of trying to get a long-term deal with a new owner. Many potential buyers’ names have been floated – from a local consortium led by Delaware North’s Jacobs family to former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano to billionaire developer Donald Trump.

“Gov. Cuomo and this administration want to send a very strong message to the new owners and the NFL that we are committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo and are prepared to do the legwork to make this a reality,” said Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, who was the point person during the 2012-2013 stadium lease talks.

AECOM’s fees will be taken out of the $350,000 the state recently awarded Foley & Lardner as part of a three-year contract. AECOM’s total price tag was not revealed, though portions of it – such as $5,000 for each rendering the firm completes for new stadium sites – were contained in a document obtained by The News.

The report will include an array of architectural, infrastructure and financial information, but it will not include what the state might be willing to spend on a new stadium. That would come down the road, assuming the new owners want a new stadium and want to stay in the region.

Sources say the next owners will certainly want to perform their own stadium analysis but that AECOM’s work will be an important tool the next owners – or prospective bidders – can use in judging the value of keeping the team here.

AECOM has been a key partner in stadiums for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. It was involved in the renovations at Lambeau Field for the Green Bay Packers and the Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, as well as a number of major college football stadiums.

With 45,000 employees worldwide, the company is headquartered in Los Angeles.

The timetable is short, given the amount of work the state and the law firm want from AECOM. The company will look at whether it makes financial and economic sense to build a stadium with, for instance, 60,000 to 80,000 seats, and whether the right parcels exist in downtown Buffalo or other areas for a new stadium. Infrastructure, such as existing or new roads that might be needed, will be a part of the work, as well as how many acres a stadium would need and, most obviously, construction cost estimates.

Sources said the sites will be as specific as possible and won’t be listed as just “downtown Buffalo.”

Ancillary mixed-used real estate developments for a new stadium site – such as possibly incorporating a stadium into some kind of year-round venture – also will be a key part of the study. Revenue estimates for everything from ticket sales to parking and concessions also will be projected for each site, and the firm will have to estimate costs for purchasing seats and “soft” costs, such as marketing.

Even “toilet fixture ratios” are a part of the study for each proposed site, as are graphic designs showing how vehicles will get into and out of stadium parking lots.

The company is assigning a number of executives to the project, including Jon Niemuth, the Kansas City-based director of AECOM Sports-Americas. Others include urban planners and transportation experts.

The contract calls for an evaluation of at least three but not more than four stadium sites in addition to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The review calls for “lessons learned” by up to five other stadium projects to help determine how everything from the size of a stadium to revenue projections and public sector financial support “might apply to a new Buffalo Bills stadium.”

They will look at revenue potential from advertising and sponsorships for each stadium site and even whether certain features – such as a retractable roof and the kinds of general admission and premium seating – should be considered. The contract also calls for AECOM to assess the “future potential’’ of the existing stadium.

The final three or four sites selected by AECOM will be done, the document notes, in consultation with both Raij’s law firm and the Cuomo administration’s economic development agency. The contract calls for such things as the complexity of land acquisition transactions for potential stadium sites, as well as transportation access and “the specific needs of the Buffalo fan base and community.’

The contract calls for AECOM to come up with one rendering for each site based on information from Google Maps and “massing of the proposed stadium and ancillary development.” The company is not expected to show actual architectural designs, but the “scale and mass” of a stadium development.

However, the firm will supply what the contract calls a “generic stadium model” for each site that will include a three-dimensional “generic stadium computer model … based on an agreed-upon total program size,” which the contract said, for example, could be 1.2 million square feet.


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