When Terry and Kim Pegula speak, Buffalo stops to listen.
That's true of everybody from fans of the professional sports teams they own to the people with a stake in the future of Western New York.
So when the Pegulas talked about a new or renovated football stadium that would be "Buffalo style," political leaders, developers and others chimed in with their own interpretations of what that could mean.
"They want to do something that meets all the current bells and whistles that they have in modern stadiums now, but that’s also practical and fits in with the hardworking, thinking that always goes on in the city," said William Paladino, CEO of Ellicott Development Co., one of Buffalo's biggest real estate developers, which also owns significant property in the Cobblestone District and Old First Ward areas that have been identified as possible locations for a new city stadium.
"We’re a hardworking, blue-collar town here. We’re Buffalo, not L.A. Whatever gets built will be representative of the area that we are and will have the things that people here like to see."
Terry Pegula, speaking to reporters Tuesday night following an NFL meeting at the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, would not say if he prefers to build a new stadium in downtown Buffalo or just renovate New Era Field in Orchard Park. But in contrasting Buffalo with Los Angeles and Dallas, he said fans shouldn't expect to see anything similar to the palatial stadiums now going up in those much larger cities.
Instead, he suggested it would be a "scaled-down version" that would be "Buffalo style," without clarifying or elaborating.
Which is not to say that a new stadium is coming anytime soon. It will require a public-private partnership that could take years to come together.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said during a news conference following his State of the County address that there is still time to make all those considerations.
"The Pegulas talked about the two recent stadiums that were very expensive stadiums, Mercedes Stadium in Atlanta, which was a $2 billion stadium, as well as what's being built in Los Angeles, which is a $5 billion facility, which is ridiculous. I think what he was saying with 'Buffalo style' is don't expect numbers that large," Poloncarz said.
"But you've got to expect at least a billion dollars. The Vikings' new stadium came in at just under a billion, and that's what I think we'd be talking about. That's a conversation that we, in the county, as well as the state and the Pegulas will have when the time has come. We're just not there yet," he added.
If and when the time does come to talk about a new stadium, what it could be is subject to broad interpretation.
"Don’t expect that it’s going to be a football palace like you would have in Dallas or other places," developer Samuel Savarino said.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown has a different take, however. "I believe that Buffalo is a world-class city, and a new stadium should have the same amenities as we see in new stadiums that have been built in different parts of the country," he said Wednesday.
Citing the $200 million ice skating, parking, restaurant and hotel complex that the Pegulas already built downtown, he added, "If Harborcenter is any example, I do expect a high-end, world-class facility that would support the world-class fans that we have in Buffalo and Western New York that have proven that they are the best and most loyal fan base in the entire country."
He also noted Buffalo's architectural and design tradition that any new stadium in the city would have to live up to.
"Buffalo is a city where all of the masters of American architecture designed buildings," Brown said. "I believe that a new stadium in downtown Buffalo should reflect the exceptional architecture that we have in the city."
Paladino cautioned, though, that spending too much on a stadium could also come with reverberations for fans.
"I hate to see some big elaborate thing gets built and then all of a sudden, ticket prices double or triple," he said, citing New York Yankees games he's watched where the first 20 rows are empty. "These new designs cost so much that they price out the everyday family. That's the last thing we want to see here."
Perhaps most disappointing to observers, however, was that Pegula didn't weigh in on where the stadium should be. Instead, he continued to defer to a market research study that is being conducted for Pegula Sports and Entertainment by CAA ICON, which is studying the potential for either renovating the Bills’ New Era Field or building a new football stadium.
"I'm not sure they can make that call until they see what the results of the study are," said Nellie Drew, director of the University at Buffalo's Center for the Advancement of Sport.
CAA ICON also will look into possible renovations at KeyBank Center, where the Pegula-owned Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits now play. New Era Field is more than 40 years old, while KeyBank Center has been open for 23 years.
The Bills’ lease agreement with Erie County to play in Orchard Park expires in 2023.
“The most important thing is that the Buffalo Bills are staying right where they belong – in Western New York," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "I have great confidence in my friends Terry and Kim Pegula. I’ve always said that I’ll do everything I can to help ensure both the Bills and the Sabres have the facilities they need to bring that elusive championship to the best fans in the world.”
CAA ICON is reaching out to fans, including season ticket holders, and other major stakeholders as part of the study that was announced in November and expected to take six to nine months to complete. That outreach has included a survey and focus groups, and has drawn 30,000 respondents, according to Kim Pegula.
The Bills-specific survey by the Denver-based consultant asked questions regarding fans’ interest in professional and college sports, how often they buy tickets, their preferences for types of seating, interest in various stadium amenities, tailgating habits, tolerance for different price points in either a new or renovated stadium, and willingness to pay more for premium amenities.
It also asked whether the survey taker believes the Buffalo market would support either a new or renovated Bills stadium, and whether the survey taker would personally support a new stadium or renovated New Era Field. And it asks whether the survey taker would be willing to pay more for tickets at a new stadium rather than a renovated stadium.
"I think they’re going to do what’s in the best interests of the team to keep them here long term," Paladino said.
Drew said the financial analysis conducted by CAA ICON also will help determine, for example, whether to build a domed stadium, an open-air stadium or a facility with a retractable roof, the most expensive option.
"I think the Pegulas have demonstrated a very keen sensitivity to the financial constraints of the Buffalo market," she said, although fans here have shown a willingness to pay to attend Bills games.
PSE brass have said little about what CAA ICON has turned up since it started working on the study. Terry Pegula said this data would be available in the summer.
The NFL is prodding the team to build the stadium that can generate the most additional revenue for the team and the rest of the league, but that's not necessary here, Drew said.
"I'm not sure it would fly here," she said of the Los Angeles and Dallas palaces. "I'm not sure it's needed here. We know Bills fans. They're going to go to the game anyhow. Quite honestly, you could probably hold it at Orchard Park High School and they'd still show up with their tables."