Owner: Fan-related costs factor into Bills' stadium decision
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula says he won't ask fans to break the bank when it comes to deciding whether to renovate the team's current stadium in the suburbs or build a new one downtown.
"Whatever we're going to do stadium-wise is going to be in the best interest of our fans," Pegula told The Associated Press during a wide-ranging interview before the start of the NHL draft in Vancouver. "We have the interest of our fans at heart, and what we do will be heavily weighted — whatever the plan is — toward the benefit of our fans."
The Bills have hired a private firm to conduct a feasibility study on determining the team's future home. The study is due to be completed sometime this summer and lead to a decision on whether the Bills will continue playing at New Era Field in suburban Orchard Park, New York, or relocate.
Both options are deemed expensive and have raised concerns over how much public money might be required to fund the project, and how much a new stadium could boost ticket prices in one of the NFL's smallest markets.
A New York state-funded study in 2014 projected the next round of renovations would cost $540 million, including for structural improvements and rebuilding the stadium's third deck. A new facility would cost almost double that, depending on location and whether it features a roof and based on how much infrastructure upgrades — expanded roads, access ramps, public transportation — might be necessary.
New Era Field opened in 1973. Pegula also owns the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, and the feasibility study is also assessing renovations to that team's home, KeyBank Center, which opened in 1996.
"As far as professional sports teams go, Buffalo's the biggest little city in the country," said Pegula, who co-owns the Bills with his wife, Kim. "And our fans need their due as far as whatever we do with venues for them to attend our games."
The study began late last year and sought input from fans.
Questions regarding the Bills' stadium were renewed earlier this month when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated the league's preference in a new facility.
Goodell acknowledged the differences in costs and market size in saying that the price of a new facility in Dallas might not necessarily work in Buffalo. However, he stressed that a new stadium is required for the Bills to remain financially stable and be competitive.
Some inferred Goodell's comments as a veiled threat that the NFL would consider relocating the franchise without a new stadium.
The Pegulas dismissed that notion, saying they are in constant contact with Goodell and working with him.
"Roger knows where we stand. We weren't at all upset or thought that he was trying to say anything differently," Kim Pegula said.
"It's a big, big nut to crack," she added, referring to the potential costs of either option. "It's going to take some patience on everyone's part."