Design & Development

Bills secure final approval for new stadium

Featured image credit: Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have announced that construction of the NFL American football franchise’s new stadium will begin in earnest after the project completed its final formal step.

Erie County Legislature yesterday (Thursday) voted 10-0 in favour of the project, which will see a stadium with a capacity of between 60,000 and 62,000 developed on land adjacent to the Bills current home, Highmark Stadium.

The Bills, New York State and Erie County last month announced that all documents and contracts for the project had been signed and submitted to the Erie County Legislature, leading to a 30-day review to determine whether any ratifications needed to be made to the stadium. This process concluded with yesterday’s vote.

“We want to thank Governor (Kathy) Hochul, the County Executive and all of our public partners for bringing this process to a successful conclusion,” said Bills executive vice-president and chief operating officer, Ron Raccuia.

“All of the legal agreements and public-private partnerships with the county and the state are signed. There are no more documents. All the focus is now on construction and the opening of the stadium, which will start immediately.”

Construction was scheduled to begin this spring, with all parties involved able to finalise the agreements to remain on that timeline. In addition to the groundbreaking on the site, the Bills said they will also be moving forward on final design elements as well as the development of the club’s stadium experience centre. Major construction is scheduled for June.

“Now that all the negotiations are over, we are excited to begin the physical phase of this project, which will lead to the opening of the stadium,” said Raccuia. “Major construction in June will begin with excavation. The final design elements are never really final, but it’s extremely dialled in at this point.”

In March 2022, the Bills reached an agreement with New York State and Erie County to build the stadium in Orchard Park as Governor Hochul secured a 30-year commitment for the team to remain in Buffalo.

Under the agreement, New York State will commit $600m (£476.1m/€544.1m) towards the project, with Erie County to provide $250m. The NFL, through its G4 loan programme, and the Bills will provide the remaining $550m. The team had been contributing $350m of the $1.4bn initial projected cost, but this has now increased to $1.54bn with the franchise committed to covering any overruns.

The open-air stadium, which will be built on a 242-acre site, is set to be the biggest project ever built in Western New York. The construction of a 75,000-square-foot ancillary building and demolition of the current stadium are also part of the site’s related development. Completion is scheduled for July 2026 ahead of that year’s NFL regular season.

ESPN reports that the new deal includes a community benefits agreement that includes the team investing at least $3m per year in the community, with that amount adjusted every year by the price index, potentially raising over $100m during the course of the lease.

It also includes a non-relocation agreement that states the Bills shall not “entertain any offer or proposal to relocate the team to a location other than the Stadium”.

The Bills have released three sets of renderings for the stadium, with the latest images showing how the team brand and fan culture could be represented at the venue.

The 71,000-capacity Highmark Stadium opened in 1973 and while its previous lease agreement was due to expire in July, it has now been extended to 2028 with the new deal. Following the opening of the new facility, Highmark Stadium is expected to be demolished and redeveloped as a large parking lot.

“As much as everybody would like to think the Bills were never moving, there was always a risk being a small market and larger markets that were interested in the team,” said Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz.

“So, because of the tremendous work of so many, including from (Bills owners) the Pegulas’ team, I can guarantee you that this team is staying here for the rest of my life and everyone will be able to cheer on the Buffalo Bills for decades to come.”