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Can tailgating work at a downtown Buffalo stadium? Absolutely!

Back in August, we presented The Artvoice Stadium Plan, a bold blueprint for how a replacement stadium for the Buffalo Bills could be placed in the middle of the downtown core. The article received a lot of praise, a lot of critique, and generated a great deal of discussion throughout the community.

One of the biggest objections, if not the biggest, which detractors of a downtown stadium raise is the issue of the tailgating. Since Ralph Wilson Stadium opened its doors in 1973, a suburban venue surrounded with 17,000 parking spaces and 200 acres of asphalt, the robust tailgating tradition has been synonymous with Buffalo Bills football. Along with such teams as Green Bay, Houston and Kansas City, Buffalo fans rank amongst the elite in the NFL when it comes to throwing a tailgate party.

What would happen to tailgating if the Buffalo Bills relocated to a downtown location, sited amidst a dense neighborhood of existing structures and where vast seas of open parking are at a premium.

The answer. Nothing bad. To see how things could work, perhaps Detroit could be looked at as a template.

In 2002, the Detroit Lions left their old stadium, the Pontiac Silverdome, for a glitzy new stadium located right in the middle of downtown Detroit and directly adjacent to a newly invigorated Greektown Historic District. Like us here in Orchard Park, the Silverdome was located in the exurbs, and surrounded by little more than huge acreage of open parking lots. People in Detroit loved to tailgate, and lamented the lack of suitable tailgate venues upon the move downtown.
The team responded by setting up a designated “tailgate lot”, but it was too far, too small, and well off the beaten path.

But tailgating came back to Detroit, with a vengeance, and grew organically in creative ways as people sought venues and settings to enjoy football gamedays. And eventually, Detroit’s Eastern Market became tailgate central. On any football Sunday, the neighborhood comes alive as thousands upon thousands of fans name the streets and the neighborhood to engage in their football pastime.


During the week, the Eastern Market is the hub of farmers produce and other food items sold in kiosks and stands throughout a six block area. The neighborhood looks much like Buffalo’s own Cobblestone District, with many post industrial structures, some warehouses, a bit of new infill, loading docks, a few quaint shops and restaurants, and while many of the buildings bear a strong architectural and historical heritage, others are way past their prime dreck.

Here is a map of the Eastern Market Tailgate, just a long touchdown pass away from the front doors of Ford Field in Detroit

Here is a map of the Eastern Market Tailgate, just a long touchdown pass away from the front doors of Ford Field in Detroit

On game day, everything changes. Fans descend by the thousands with their cars, RV’s and campers. Radio stations and other media outlets set up their kiosks, food trucks abound, stages with live music are in abundance, the streets come alive and people fill every nook and cranny in a big community celebration.

The scene is not unlike that of game day surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium, except that at the Ralph the scene is set in massive open lots, while in Detroit the same scene unfolds amidst a multi block setting of industrial and commercial buildings.
Hans Steiniger is a passionate Buffalo Bills fans now living in suburban Detroit, and he has attended football games at all 31 NFL venues as well as many college football games. He chronicles his journey at his web site, Hans was on hand this past Sunday at the Eastern Market Tailgate, dressed in Bills attire while holding court with his many Detroit friends, and marveled at how the Detroit tailgate scene has evolved. “Water always finds its level,” explained Hans. When the Lions moved here things were kind of dead, but over time it picked up here, and what you see here today is one of the coolest NFL tailgate scenes anywhere, right here in Motown.

Could tailgating work at a downtown Buffalo location? “For sure,” says Hans. “Buffalo people have to get out of that mindset that you need big oceans of asphalt to have proper tailgating. Anyplace where you can set up a grill and a canopy and share the experience with others becomes a proper tailgate venue. A little out of the box thinking is all you need. Buffalo is party city and that party will move from Ralph Wilson Stadium to a downtown location with no problem.”
So imagine if you will that some incarnation of the Artvoice Stadium Plan comes to fruition come 2021 or so, and community sentiment right now certainly seems to favor that if a new stadium is to become a reality, that it be located in Buffalo and preferably downtown.

Would it be feasible that the Ohio Street corridor, Riverfest Park and Father Conway Park in the Old First Ward would come alive with tailgate revelers? Would properties along South Park, and Perry Street, and Scott Street, and Exchange Street, be lined with cars and campers and these corridors become a massive street party on game day? Could you see the Cobblestone District with music stages and food truck courts and vendors hawking their wares? Would Canalside and the soon to be opened HarborCenter become energetic centers of activity?


The answer. Absolutely.

The photos contained in this article were taken this past Sunday prior to the Buffalo Bills vs Detroit Lions game in Detroit by Artvoice sports columnists Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell. Follow on twitter @akulykUSRT and @pfarrellUSRT

  • pauln716

    I loved the stadium plan that was designed. I love the idea of reopening the central terminal as its intended use, a train station. And I love the idea of tailgating at lager haus, cobblestone, pearl street, or right on the sidewalks themselves. People shouldn’t be detractors and pretend they never roamed the streets of Buffalo whilst drunk before.