by Pat Freeman
The notion of retrofitting Ralph Wilson Stadium continues to be discussed even though NFL owners have not back tracked on the need for a new stadium to insure the long term viability of a team in WNY. Below are some of the costs associated with some of the more recent retrofits of stadiums around the country:
1. Chicago , Illinois – $365 Million in renovation cost to Soldier Field
2. Kansas City, Missouri- $375 Million in renovation to Arrowhead Stadium
3. New Orleans Louisiana- $336 million in renovation to the Superdome. Part of the cost was paid for by FEMA $153 million from the Katrina disaster
4. Green Bay Wisconsin- $295 Million to Lambieu Field.
The building of a stadium complex on the outer harbor in Buffalo is one decision that changes the landscape of opportunity. You see we are not just talking about a new home for the Buffalo Bills home games but a facility with a retractable roof that can be used year round for a variety of events. This is a multi use stadium project that will attract various conventions, concerts, festival, trade shows, and etc. to western New York. The plan is not just a stadium but it must be a plan for the total upgrade of our convention space, meeting rooms, and pre function space. Once this master plan is implemented hotel investors will be ready to build, or expand their hotel operations in downtown Buffalo.
Indianapolis, Indiana put forth a very aggressive Convention Center Expansion project which included.
254,000 square feet exhibit space
63,000 square feet of meeting rooms
103,000 square feet of pre function space
Convention Center Expanded to 566,000 square feet
113,000 square feet of meeting rooms
62,173 square feet of Ball room space.
Also they built skywalks that connect their downtown buildings so people do not have to go outside. The skywalk system connects more than seven blocks of commercial establishments.
Let’s take a look at the Louisiana Superdome renovation project after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since the first phase of the renovation was completed in 2006 the fiscal impact has been $4.1 billion to the Louisiana economy. The Saints Lease with the renovated Mercedes Benz Superdome runs through 2025, and by its end the Superdome will return 58 times the investment to the State of Louisiana.
Fema- $156 Million (Fema Eligible repairs including roof and aluminum siding
State of Louisiana- $121 million (includes 2010 $85 million in enhancement upgrades.
LSED Bonds-$44 million (from refinanced LSED bonds post Katrina)
NFL- $15 million (non reimbursable funding grant from the NFL
Total- $336 million
In Part IV of this series that favors a new stadium in downtown Buffalo I will take a look at a study done by Tom Tom of GPS Data looking at the NFL cities with the worst game day traffic. According to this particular study the Washington Redskins have the worst game day traffic with a 57% speed reduction from normal pace on the roads surrounding the stadium. Well you would never guess who is tied for second place with our arch nemesis the New England Patriots, yes its our Buffalo Bills with a slow down pace of 55% on the roads surrounding the stadium. The location of Ralph Wilson stadium makes attending games in western New York a virtual nightmare to the faithful that go to games in Orchard Park despite the effort last year to close down Abbott Road on game days. There has been very little improvement with traffic flow on game day, and makes attendance to a three hour game a nine to ten our adventure. The following lists the 10 worst Traffic NFL cities with their percentage of slow down pace on game days.
1. Washington – 57%
2. New England tied with Buffalo- 55%
3. Dallas- 41%
5. Carolina- 37%
6. Miami- 36%
7. Tennessee- 35%
8. Green Bay- 33%
9. Atlanta- 31%
Building a new stadium complex on the Outer Harbor
By year seven, the average revenue increase from year one for teams with new stadiums was almost $90 million, compared to $68 million for teams without new stadiums. NFL teams with new stadiums realized an $84 million increase in franchise value after its first season in the new stadium. During that same period, the average franchise increase for teams without new stadiums was $24 million.
By year seven the average franchise increase from year one for teams with new stadiums was over $510 million, compared to $427 Million for teams without new stadiums.
The second area which I will look at in this part of the series of articles has to do with the naming rights, and why it is in our best interest for Western New York to sell the naming right to it’s new facility . This is a list of some of the NFL stadium naming deals:
1. M&T Bank Stadium- Baltimore, Maryland (1998)
Cost to build -$220 Million
Naming rights- 15 years $75 million
2. Reliant Stadium- Houston, Texas (2002)
Cost to build- $352 million
Naming rights – 32 years $320 Million
3. Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium Denver Colorado (2001)
Cost to Build-$365 Million
Naming rights- 25 years $150 million
4. University of Phoenix Stadium Glendale Arizona
Cost to Build $455 Million
Naming Rights- 26 years $154 Million
5. Lucas Oil stadium Indianapolis, Indiana (2008)
Cost to Build – $720 Million
Naming Rights- 20 years $122 Million
My final concern is the stadium usage, and location which no longer is the trend of NFL cities. Orchard Park is not the hub of Erie County that distinction belongs to the city of Buffalo. The current trend nationally is to strengthen the urban centers, and move large venue facilities back into the heart of the city. No longer are cities being looked at as secondary to suburban townships because if urban centers begin to flourish they begin to produce jobs, and opportunities for the bulk of population areas. This trend leads to a natural reduction of poverty because government action has triggered private sector job creation. There has been very little if any private sector job creation related to Ralph Wilson stadium because it is not part of the western New York convention space, and is only used a mere ten times per year. I find this fact alone as being fiscally irresponsible to even consider investing $200 million into a facility that would take ten years to break even in tax revenues.
If the stadium was located at the outer harbor in Buffalo, and with its construction a better and more expanded convention space the stadium would pay for itself within three- five years. The project would also attract more hotel investors, new businesses, and existing businesses would move quickly to reap the benefits of the remodeling of one of the most beautiful areas on earth.
The third problem with remodeling Ralph Wilson stadium is that it’s only a temporary band aid to the eventual sale of the team to a new owner. It also opens the door to the team leaving western New York. Sorry elected officials I’ve covered the NFL for 20 years which includes play offs, and 14 Super Bowls. There has never been an owner relocate a team from a city that just built a new stadium. The relocation of franchises from cities usually involves areas that can’t agree on building a modern multi-use structure for an NFL team. So elected officials in other areas that have the same problems of Western New York are building multi-use facilities to provide NFL teams with modern state of the art facilities, but to also produce revenues outside of football which include conventions, entertainment, and trade shows.
The issue of an Outer Harbor stadium complex in the city of Buffalo is not an issue of controversy at all. It’s an issue that changes the economic landscape of the WNY Region. For we are talking about the enhancement of the convention space which makes the city of Buffalo, and western New York one of the top destinations in the world. For now with all of its fresh water beauty, and its historical architectural wonders we’ve expanded our ability to host major conventions, trade shows, festivals, concerts. With these enhancements hotels, restaurants, and other businesses will begin to knock at the door of Western New York. This type of infrastructure investment will once again add to all of the already projects that are in place to bring the city of Buffalo, and Western New York back.
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