Waterfront stadium developers outline grand vision

Oct 24, 2012

Developers looking to build a year-round,multi-sport facility and football stadium on Buffalo's waterfront presented their plans to city lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.

Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex Vice President George Hasiotis says the $1.4 billion project will integrate the waterfront with downtown Buffalo and increase the value of the Central Business District and other sports venues downtown. 

The group commissioned a plan from Dallas-based HKS Sports & Entertainment, an architectural and engineering firm that recently designed new stadia for the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts, and is working on a plan for the Minnesota Vikings.

GBSEC Vice President George Hasiotis, WUFO radio sports director Pat Freeman, and Strong Museum President and CEO G. Rollie Adams make their pitch to the council.
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

Hasiotis stressed the facility would be much more than a football stadium. 

"It's not going to be used eight or ten times a year. It's going to be used on a daily basis, day in and day out, by multiple businesses and for multiple activities," Hasiotis said.

Along with providing a new 72,000-seat retractable roof home for the Buffalo Bills, plans include a convention center, hotel, and sports museum by Rochester's Strong Museum. 

Developers envision at least 600,00 visitors per year for the museum alone. They believe once the facility is built, the stadium could host a Super Bowl within just a few years.

Proponents also say the year-round attraction would create 10,000 "living-scale" jobs.

The land is currently owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. GBSEC CEO and President Nicholas Stracick says all his group needs is the 150 acres of Outer Harbor land.

"If we get the land, we then will be able to go forward," said Stracick.

The developers said they already have $800-900 million dollars lined up from unnamed sponsors for the project.  They say the state, unions, and the National Football League could fund the remaining cost, rather than investing in upgrades to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, which are expected to cost upwards of $200 million.

A look at what the proposed site might look like if built
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

The developers earlier told The Buffalo News they have not reached out to either the Bills or state leaders about the proposal. 

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, reacting in a late afternoon news briefing, said he wants to see the Outer Harbor as a major attraction and has met with the sponsors of the proposed stadium.

However, the mayor says he is first and foremost concerned with making sure the Buffalo Bills stay in the region.

"I would love to go to see the Bills in a dome stadium in the City of Buffalo, but I think the most important priority for the community are the current lease negotiations that are going on between the county, the state, and the Bills organization, and I think it's critically important that those lease negotiations be concluded successfully so that the Bills are in Buffalo and Western New York for the long term," Brown said.

Brown is involved in the tangled talks over who will acquire the Outer Harbor property from the NFTA, whether it be the city or the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.

"I think this is an early-stage proposal. It looks like there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things that have to be done. The idea, if it was at the point where it could be done, I'd be very pleased with."

But the proposal for an Outer Harbor football stadium is problematic, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Buffalo's Outer Harbor
Credit classicbuffalo.com

Poloncarz says the site lacks the space needed for parking.  He also says the current road infrastructure makes it difficult to accommodate the thousands of fans who will be commuting to and from the stadium on game days.

Poloncarz says the Skyway, which is the only access point, is often subject to closure when the weather is bad or when an accident occurs, which happened Tuesday morning when a multi-vehicle crash closed the highway for an hour-and-a-half.

The county executive says he is continuing to negotiate a new lease with the team for their current home in Orchard Park, where the Bills have indicated they would like to stay, and was never contacted by the proponents of the waterfront plan.

Rep. Brian Higgins says he doesn't think the waterfront is the right site for the complex.

"It's not water-dependent. It's not water-enhanced. I think those lands should be turned over to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to be developed to their highest and best use," Higgins said Tuesday. 

Higgins says the discussion about a new stadium should have started 15 years ago when the last lease was signed. But he says if the proponents of the waterfront site can answer some lingering questions, the project is worthy of consideration.