Deconstructing Downtown Stadium Myths
by Andrew Kulyk (@akulykUSRT) - posted 12:26 am, January 21, 2015
Few topics around these parts generate more discussion and passion then the future of the Buffalo Bills and a possible new stadium. When we unveiled The Artvoice Stadium Plan back in August, the cover story generated a great deal of discussion and debate and was received and covered by a good number of peer media outlets and blogs.
We moved the needle on the conversation, and this past week, with the release of the New York State consultants report on alternative sites for the future home of the Buffalo Bills, that needle was moved again, with a plethora of media coverage and scrutiny, and a broad public discussion on the subject which continues.
So now for my disclosure part… I live in downtown Buffalo, in a really nice place, and have been here for the past five years after spending all of my adult life in Cheektowaga. I more than just reside here… I am a downtowner in every way. I cheer the rehab of every dusty old building, the opening of every new business or restaurant, the paving of every new bike path, the awesomeness of Canalside and HarborCenter with more to come, and welcome every new neighbor that moves into the city.
Having traveled to and experienced all 31 NFL venues, as well as countless college football stadiums, the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and international NFL experiences in London and Toronto, I am resolute in my belief that our Ralph Wilson Stadium is an over the hill functional relic, even with all the new renovations and black painted walls and boulders and new scoreboards. The NFL is transforming and is continuing to transform as an entertainment entity, and that transformation requires dynamic and state-of-the-art bricks and mortar. Yeah it would be nice if we could go back to simpler times and the New York Giants were playing in the Polo Grounds and it was 25 cent ladies day and programs were a nickel. Ain’t gonna happen.
The Buffalo Bills will not be playing at RWS come 2022, plain and simple. They will be playing in a new stadium, whether it be here or in some other city.So back to the disclosure – I am on board in support of an eventual new stadium within the limits of the City of Buffalo, preferably close to downtown. I’d like to see the building designed as a singularly unique and iconic architectural marvel that screams “Buffalo” to the world. I would like to see a funding model to pay for the thing that intrudes as little as possible on the public wallet, instead relying on the capital of the owner, the NFL, the concessionaires and trade unions who stand to profit, and that taxpayer contributions be provided only for infrastructure upgrades that will serve dual purposes for the stadium and for ancillary benefits for the community.
So these past few days I’ve been following the stories and comments on all the pieces running on the Buffalo News and all the local television outlets. Predictably, the comment threads run into the hundreds. The takes and contributions are, for the most part, heartfelt and passionate. It is a good and healthy community debate. And I’m happy to see that there seems to be a growing consensus among the public in support of a downtown stadium.
Yet three specific points are regurgitated by some commenters over and over and over again, to the point that I want to bang my head against the wall. Simply put, these points are not facts. They are wrong. And are being put forth by people who are simply ignorant, have a bias or fear against the city, or are misinformed. So time to deconstruct…
Point #1… “There is no place to park downtown”
Wow. Are you frikkin’ kidding??? If there’s one thing that downtown Buffalo has, it’s an abundance of parking. Parking ramps, surface lots, underground lots, street parking. Parking. Parking. Parking. I would argue that we will not become a true and vibrant city for real until we wean ourselves off the plethora of parking.
So let’s go to the consultant’s report. Alternative #1, the Cobblestone location, has 12,000 spaces situated within a 3/4 mile radius of the stadium’s footprint. 12,000 spaces!!! The Exchange location and the South Park location, with more access to swaths of open land, also fill the bill nicely. Without planning for a single new parking space, any one of the alternatives proposed will be sufficient to serve the new stadium. Keep in mind as well that a downtown stadium will be serviced by Metrorail, Amtrak, and public bus service, something that RWS does not have available. The only option to get to Orchard Park is by car.
Point #2… “Traffic will be a nightmare”
Yes. And? So where exactly will you locate a stadium with 70,000 patrons converging on that spot all at the same time, and not have traffic congestion. UB Amherst? Niagara Falls? Batavia? Heck even the current stadium in Orchard Park?
I am not a traffic consultant or engineer, just a layman. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that downtown Buffalo is serviced by five divided highways coming directly into the city – I-190 from two directions, the Kensington expressway, Route 5 from the southtowns, and the QEW from Canada. That’s a lot of asphalt and capacity. Add the radial grid of city streets, and that thousands more will ride Metrorail and Amtrak to the games, further diffusing the number of cars entering the city. I will venture to guess that when traffic is eventually evaluated in the SEQR process, that downtown Buffalo will win hands down over any peer alternative, and even the current stadium in Orchard Park.
55,000 people come to work downtown every day, many of them traveling by themselves in their autos. 70,000 stadium fans, most commuting in groups of full vehicles will be less of an impact than the typical morning rush hour.
Oh, here’s a bonus Negative Nancy comment for this category… “It will be that much worse when the Bills and Sabres play at the same time.” Back in October, Peter Farrell and I traveled to Detroit to see the Bills play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Right across the street at Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers were playing the Kansas City Royals in game 3 of the ALDS. That’s 110,000 sports fans converging on downtown Detroit, all at the same time. The usual advisories were issued by the teams about leaving early, parking maps were disseminated by the media, and the city didn’t burn and collapse from the stress. Should a two venue simultaneous schedule ever occur here, Buffalo will emerge from it just fine.
Point #3… “There won’t be any tailgating”
Wrong. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Baltimore and Jacksonville and Detroit and Chicago and Seattle are just some the cities with downtown NFL stadiums. And they all roll out a tailgate scene which is robust and electric and makes for a great street party.
The myth here is that in order to tailgate, a stadium needs to be in a corn patch somewhere surrounded by 200 acres of asphalt.
Yet in the aforementioned downtown cities, there are plenty of surface lots, and street parking, and areas attached to taverns and restaurants with outdoor space, that offer the opportunity for pre and post game partying and food and libations.
Just yesterday, the Orchard Park supervisor (who understandably has his own agenda) lamented the idea of a downtown stadium, and talked about the wonderful tailgating and how he took his children and now he takes his grandchildren tailgating as a longtime season ticket holder. Well, that’s all nice, but tailgating in Orchard Park has its dark side – the binge drinking and alcohol intake that has gone on outside has fueled a culture of violence inside the stadium, to the point that the team has finally taken aggressive steps to address. Simply put, the nonsense that goes on at RWS doesn’t happen at other peer NFL venues. You can buy a daiquiri or a cocktail and enjoy your beer pretty much anywhere in the NFL. Yet here they cut the watered down beer off at the start of the 3rd quarter. Why is that?
A downtown stadium changes that culture. Right away. Furthermore, it gives the fan options. Right now, you want to make your game day a day long experience? Bring the cooler. Bring the grill. Buy charcoal. And folding chairs. Next option… (insert crickets chirping).
With a downtown stadium, fans will still be able to tailgate. Or they can go a restaurant or tavern. Or go ice skating or curling. Or hang out by the waterfront. The myriad of entertainment options will be many. Right now at RWS there is but one.
I am loving this debate. I love engaging with people about the stadium, even the detractors who belch out Who cares? Let them move to Toronto!. For I am a “stadiumphile”, and have picked up a thing or two about how these things work and what works well as I have traveled across the country and beyond to visit other sports venues. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that a new stadium in downtown Buffalo will be a huge piece in the ongoing story of our city’s re-emergence and new climb to greatness.
Let the discussion and debate continue… like that pesky little matter of getting the spare billion or so it’s going to take to build this thing. But can I ask just one favor? Please, please no more stupid comments about parking, traffic and tailgating.
Artvoice sports columnists Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell have visited all 122 venues in the four major sports in their ongoing travel journey, The Ultimate Sports Road Trip. Follow their journey at their website, www.thesportsroadtrip.com