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BISONS UNVEIL PLANS TO INCREASE PILOT FIELD CAPACITY TO 41,530 UPPER TIER WOULD BE ADDED, BLEACHERS CONVERTED

BISONS UNVEIL PLANS TO INCREASE PILOT FIELD CAPACITY TO 41,530 UPPER TIER WOULD BE ADDED, BLEACHERS CONVERTED

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Drawings were unveiled today for revised Pilot Field expansion that would create a U-shaped bowl with a seating capacity of 41,530.

Architects said the new plan removes the need for an overhanging grandstand at the stadium. Instead, seating will be arranged in a gradual slope from the field to the top of the stands. That additional seating will mainly be located in right field.

"The primary objective of this scheme is to maintain as much as possible the intimate scale of Pilot Field by eliminating the large cantilevers of the earlier proposal," architect Joe Spear said.

"We are going right ahead with the planning just to make sure that the major league owners realize it's not just a lot of talk," Mayor Griffin said, as the plans were unveiled four days before the annual baseball winter meetings begin in Nashville, Tenn.

The expansion runs along the Washington and Swan street sides of the stadium. The outfield bleachers would be converted into permanent seating and an additional seating tier would screen the parking garage from view.

The upper level extension in the new scheme does not hang over the existing facade, and the lower and club level seating would be extended around the outfield in two tiers that create a gradual rise to the upper level seating deck.

No definite price tag was attached to the proposal, but the architect said it could be built for significantly less than stadiums under construction in Baltimore and Chicago, which range in cost from $109 million to $118 million.

Other parts of the plan include:

Raising the existing green metal roof to enclose the new seating area.

Putting in escalators to take fans to the new level.

Building a new pedestrian ramp to connect Pilot Field to the parking garage.

Relocating the cupolas in front of the entrances rather than at the end of the stadium roof.

Expanding press facilities for 30 additional sports writers.

Adding 15 suites.

A picnic area with concession and toilet facilities has been incorporated into the area near center field.

"I'm sure that having this rendering from the architects along with other information will help us keep our momentum going for expansion," Bison Baseball President Robert Rich Jr. said.

Rich said Bison officials will take the drawings to the annual winter meeting of baseball owners in Nashville. League expansion is expected to be part of the discussions, he said.

Although the league prohibits lobbying by persons interested in attracting an expansion team, Rich said Bison officials will have legitimate business there related to their minor league operations.

"The timing is perfect," Rich said. "We'll have information to take down and show off at the baseball meetings. All of us will be hard-pressed not to rave about it."

City officials say the new plans for the Pilot Field addition are a substantial shift from earlier designs.

Charles F. Rosenow, president of the Buffalo Development Corp., said the original expansion plan for a 20,000-seat upper deck above the grandstand took away a sense of intimacy. A spokesman for the Kansas City-based architect said Wednesday that the revised upper deck probably will not be as high as originally designed.

Buffalo officials hope their stadium plans demonstrate this city is continuing to actively pursue a major league franchise, Rosenow said. The planned stadium addition would not occur without the award of a franchise, however.

"This year is supposed to be the key year," Rosenow said. "The owners are expected to address expansion this year. Other cities aren't asleep at the switch.

"What we are trying to convey is the activity taking place in Buffalo in anticipation of a major league franchise."

Rich said city officials have been working closely with his company to come up with a new design for the expanded stadium that follows the spirit of the original.

"Our philosophy has been to keep the lines of the stadium and keep it attractive and pure," he said. "We have a beautiful building. It's received rave reviews in baseball and architectural circles.

"We want to make sure the same feeling and excitement and architectural integrity will be in the new expansion plans."

The trip to Nashville prompted Mike Billoni, general manager of the Bisons, to recall a similar session seven years ago.

"Seven years ago, we went to our first winter meeting and had the first designs of Pilot Field with us," he said. "We threw a great party, brought Mayor Griffin and fed everybody chicken wings."

It was that party, Billoni said, that prompted former Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to ban any further such lobbying from the meetings. That won't deter the Bisons, however.

"We've gotten to know a lot of people since then," he said. "They've congratulated us on our million-plus (attendance) seasons and now we can give them something more to show it's time here for major league baseball."

Rosenow said the new plans for the Pilot Field addition are based on the experience the city has had operating the stadium since it opened in 1987.

"After a year or two of looking at the present building, we wanted to see what we could do to preserve the intimacy of the building and protect its features," he said. "We underestimated the public's acceptance of the design.

"The architects were asked to modify Phase II to retain that feeling of smallness."

Rosenow also said city officials were concerned about how the original plan intended to move people between the first and second levels of an expanded stadium. He said plans for stairwells seemed inadequate but the architects, Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc., have come back with alternatives. They should solve the access problem without consuming too much room.

Rosenow said the downtown stadium is too confined on its plot of land to use large ramps similar to those at Rich Stadium.

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