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Poll: Majority favors downtown stadium for Bills

A majority of Erie County voters support a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, and most want it to be built downtown, according to a Siena poll conducted for The Buffalo News and WGRZ-TV.

Some 54 percent of voters surveyed last Tuesday and Wednesday said they support building a new stadium, compared to 36 percent who oppose a new facility for the team.

What’s more, 55 percent of all the people surveyed said the new stadium should be located downtown, while 40 percent favor Orchard Park, the poll found.

Among those who favor a new stadium, support for a downtown facility is even stronger: 73 percent.

“I would say that quite clearly, there’s strong support for a new stadium, and a clear preference for downtown over Orchard Park,” said Donald P. Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute.

The survey of 505 Erie County registered voters offered a far different take on the stadium issue than some of the public dialogue about it, which has centered on concerns about financing the facility and the potential loss of the Bills’ tailgating tradition if the team were to move downtown.

In contrast, many of those in the poll see Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park as past its prime despite $130 million in renovations just last year.

“The stadium is going to be 50 years old in 2022,” when the Bills’ current lease on the facility expires, said Chris Miano, 30, of Buffalo. “It’s time.”

That’s the sentiment, too, of National Football League officials, who have been saying for quite some time that the Bills need a new facility to make as much money as possible and remain competitive with the league’s other teams. Modern NFL stadiums typically feature fewer seats than The Ralph, but they include far more high-revenue amenities such as luxury boxes, club seats and even meeting and convention facilities.

NFL officials also have privately said they favor a stadium in downtown Buffalo to make it easier for fans from Rochester and Toronto to attend Bills games.

Put a roof on it

There was strong sentiment for a downtown stadium among the poll respondents, too, but for different reasons.

“I love the whole idea of a wonderful, alive downtown,” said Kathleen Marando, a 68-year-old Amherst resident who experienced just that when she lived in Cincinnati, which has football and baseball stadiums downtown. “This would pull all parts of the city together and help to revitalize it.”

Gerald Drinkard, 74, of Clarence agreed, saying he favors a downtown stadium with a roof and possibly convention space – a facility that might even be able to host a Super Bowl someday.

“It just makes an awful lot of sense to put it downtown,” where the stadium could feed off the growth that’s already occurring there, said Drinkard, who formerly served on the Clarence Planning Board.

Then again, a significant minority of the poll respondents opposed building a new home for the Bills.

“We have a lovely stadium,” said Carolyn Lade, 75, of the Town of Tonawanda. “We just spent millions in the recent past improving it. I’m the daughter of Scottish parents, so I say: Let’s not waste money.”

New stadium or not

So who favors a new stadium, and who opposes it?

More than anything else, there is a generational divide. While two-thirds of those under age 55 supported a new stadium, compared to only 24 percent who opposed it, people aged 55 and older were evenly split on the question.

“This is sort of conjecture, but it certainly seems as if the older people are just used to the way things are, or are more likely to say: ‘Hey, what we have is good enough’,” said Levy, the pollster.

No other demographic trait came to influence the poll results so much as age.

While a larger majority of men favored a new stadium, women still favored it by 12 percentage points.

A larger majority of Democrats said they wanted a new facility. But by 11 percentage point margins, both Republicans and Independents said they wanted one, too. Liberals and moderates voiced overwhelming support for replacing The Ralph, but even conservatives opted for the idea.

And education made no difference in the survey results, as both those with college degrees and those without favored a new stadium by nearly identical margins.

Stadium location

Age also proved to be a key factor influencing where people want a new football palace to be located.

Two-thirds of those under 55 favored a downtown location, while those 55 and over were essentially split between downtown and Orchard Park.

“Younger people were simply more likely to say a downtown stadium would be good for the team and the community,” Levy said. “They want Buffalo to be a world-class city. And for that to happen, you’ve got to have world-class sports.”

That’s pretty much what Miano, of Buffalo, is thinking.

“With the resurgence that’s happening in the city, a new stadium would be a perfect fit,” said Miano, who noted “a swelling pride in the city that just didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

Even some Orchard Park residents, such as Marion Furey, expressed strong support for a downtown stadium.

“I really do think it would help the downtown area,” said Furey, 56. “It couldn’t hurt. And it is a Buffalo team.”

Democrats and Independents also strongly favored a downtown site, while Republicans were evenly split.

Many of those who favored Orchard Park did so because they thought it would be cheaper or, like Alan M. Geldin of Grand Island, more convenient to build there.

Geldin, 69, remembers traveling downtown for Bisons or Sabres games when both teams were playing at the same time, “and the congestion was absolutely horrible.”

With a 65,000-seat football stadium, it would be even worse, Geldin predicted, asking: “Where can I go to park?”

Engaged discussion

The poll only asked respondents about the downtown and Orchard Park sites because a recent consultant’s report, compiled for the state, identified three downtown locations and the Ralph Wilson Stadium site as the best locations for a new facility.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed. Some 89 percent said the stadium belongs either downtown or in Orchard Park, with only 5 percent opting for some other site.

The poll also showed that a strong majority of Erie County residents have been engaged in the growing discussion about a new football stadium. Some 53 percent said they have been paying a great deal of attention to the issue, while 32 percent said they were paying some attention. Only 15 percent expressed little or no interest in the question.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

email: For more findings from the poll, tune in to Channel 2 News tonight and see Monday’s Buffalo News.