By Paul Wanecski
With Harbor Center now functioning, it is only a matter of time before the questions start being asked about a new and improved stadium for the Buffalo Bills. Location is of course up for debate. While we all have or preferences on where a new stadium should be (or if we need one at all) and the design, one thing that absolutely cannot change is the game day experience.
Tailgating isn't a Buffalo tradition, it is seen as a necessity on a sunday when the Bills are at home. Fans travel miles, spending hundreds of dollars on food, charcoal, fuel, adult beverages, jerseys and tickets all to be able to come together as One Buffalo in the parking lot of a stadium hours before game time. It is a tradition much unlike many teams in the NFL. We drink, we grill, we eat, we blast AC/DC and we play football. We have friends with old school buses or vans with gigantic Bills logos emblazoned on the sides. We make shot glasses out of bowling balls. We make grills out of old cars. We get ready for football. Was this tailgating tradition built because of the open area that surrounded Raplh Wilson stadium? No. This tradition was built because this town loves this team. While talk of a new stadium or stadium relocation swirl around, it is important to remember that as fans, tailgating is what makes a Bills game a Buffalo Bills game.
The massive renovations in Orchard Park have put the brakes on a new stadium for only a brief time. The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated his opinion that a new stadium would be required for the Bills. While a new stadium is a wonderful idea, the financial stress that it brings with construction and infrastructure (road and traffic) costs serve as a weight to both the team and the city. If you want a little homework, look into Paul Brown Stadium and the soon to be built stadium in Atlanta. To put it mildly, those two stadiums have been a disaster financially.
Could a stadium work downtown? From a traffic perspective, probably not. It is hard enough to get to a concert in at the First Niagara Center with the traffic patterns the way they are now. It is an ideal concept for the Pegula's to centralize the Bills with the Sabres empire they have constructed on the waterfront. If the Habor Center shows us anything, it's that the Pegula's know what they are doing. The world class facilities they constructed not only show the city of Buffalo that the Sabres are here to stay, the building, hotel and restaurant encapsulates what it is like to be a Buffalonian. Some fans would love a downtown stadium, some prefer to stay in Orchard Park. No decision will please everyone. The largest concern that can be raised is this; no matter where the stadium ends up, will the tailgating experience be compromised?
If you have an idea or want to just play around, check out this Stadium Relocator website.
If the Pegula's decide to leave Orchard Park for an alternate stadium location, I would like to make a suggestion. The Buffalo Bills and Erie County could come together to improve our educational development with a new Erie Community College North campus. The buildings and facilities at the Amherst campus are becoming more antiquated by the day. With access to main roads, multiple highways, hotels and the airport, building a stadium at the site of the ECC North campus would ensure the tailgating experience (as the size of the stadium facilities and parking would fit on that lot) while upgrading our community college education with a better, more up to date home. While not one whisper of this site has been mentioned, I hope that whatever location they choose allows the fans to do what we do best; celebrate our city and team.