If the attitudes in Ancient Rome had anticipated attitudes on 21st century America, I suppose they would have razed the Coliseum after just a few decades because the rich and powerful–Brutus and Cassius, say–could have made more money on a newer venue farther out from the city core. But no, the Romans built a sports venue that would last them for centuries and whose stone guts would still be standing over 1500 years following the fall of their Empire.
Meanwhile, in the US we have absurd situations like the Atlanta Braves and Falcons, both of whom are playing in spiffy new stadiums built in the last couple of years, replacing aging venues built…in the 1990s. At least Chicago still has Wrigley and Boston still has Fenway…but here at home, in my neck of the woods, the Buffalo Bills are gearing up to start construction on their new stadium. (And this is literally my neck of the woods: we live less than two miles from Highmark Stadium, current home of the Bills, and the new facility is set to be built across the street from the current stadium, basically taking the stadium and the parking lots and flip-flopping them.)
Renderings for the New Bills Stadium (which I’m sure will sell naming rights to some local company so it’ll end up being a boring corporate-sounding name) were released the other day, all over news media and social media in the 716:
My reaction? Meh, whatever.
Look, it’s fine. It’s nice. Stadiums (stadia?) nowadays all tend to have this futuristic-shiny thing going on (exceptions exist–I do like the way Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium ended up), and architectural diagrams always make new buildings look shinier than they do in real life; that outside rendering up top looks less like a building and more like a Ralph McQuarrie concept-art painting for a 21st century remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The field rendering? It’s fine. It’s a stadium. Inside, they all kind of look the same, because there’s really not a whole lot new you can do with a football field and 60-70,000 seats around it. It’s interesting that according to the scoreboard the Bills are beating the Jets 24-3, and according to the Gigantic Teevee Screen, the Bills are playing a home game in their white uniforms. Other than that, my basic reaction is “Yup, that’s a stadium.”
Do the Bills need a new stadium? Not exactly, in the sense that the current one is still perfectly capable of hosting games (they’re having one tomorrow night!), it’s not crumbling, et cetera. But in the sense of “Can the NFL, the Bills’ owners, and some others make a shit-ton more money than they already are if they rebuild?”, then the answer is, “HOLY SHIT YES, AND THEY CANNA BUILD IT FAST ENOUGH!!!” Which just happens to be what the answer always is, here in our era of Late-Stage Capitalism.
The worst part is the price tag that will be assessed not on the team’s owners, who are worth over 5 billion dollars, but on the public. This new stadium is supposed to cost well over 1 billion dollars, and it’s yet another example of the rich not being asked to pay entirely for the thing they want. So in a state and community with out-dated schools and infrastructure and loads of impoverished citizens, we’re spending over a billion dollars on a building that will help people who are already rich beyond comprehension get even richer.
I could rant about this, but at my vantage point of 51 years, I’ve given up on this sort of thing. If there is a point at which Americans become so sick of being fleeced by the rich that they start setting up the guillotines in the city squares, I’ve no idea what that point is. It’s tough shit, ’cause that’s just who we are as a country. We’ve equated “freedom” with “thank you sir, may I have another”, when it comes to the rich being showered with advantages they hardly need.
A while back the big debate around here wasn’t whether to build a new stadium, but where. Many people wanted it in downtown Buffalo, or as close to downtown as possible. The most frequently-mentioned site was a spot just off I-190, the main highway that accesses downtown Buffalo, where a bunch of mostly-abandoned buildings once used for public housing now stand. The arguments were that the stadium in that spot would benefit from downtown’s hotel availability and transit systems. Now, hotels I can maybe see, as there are a lot of new hotels in the downtown Buffalo area. (So much new hotel space that I often wonder why we have so much of it, given our city’s old, dilapidated, and entirely-too-small convention center that is in desperate need of replacing but probably won’t be for at least a decade now.) Transit, I’m not at all sure about. Yes, there are more bus lines in the city than all the way out to the suburbs, but that’s all there is, unless Buffalo’s Metro Rail system was somehow extended to the new stadium. (Our Metro Rail, built in the late 1980s, is literally a straight line. It was intended to be the start of a good regional light rail system, but nothing has ever been done to add to the original line.)
Building way out in Orchard Park isn’t awesome, but it makes sense on some other grounds. First, the site is shovel-ready; no demolition of existing property is needed at all. The new stadium is literally going onto the parking lot of the old one. There are lots of hotels kinda-nearby, but the area surrounding the stadium itself is not exactly a hotbed of lodging activity; just about any hotel is probably ten to fifteen minutes away. Public transit isn’t fantastic out here, either, with just a few stops that are meant more for commuters than for consistent access to and from the city. And sadly, neither of those is likely to change as long as the population of The 716 remains in its current neighborhood. Increased transit and lodging density aren’t going to happen unless this region starts growing its population in a major way again. (Which might happen longterm! Especially as climate change really starts digging it its heels. But it won’t happen fast enough to benefit the stadium.)
So, the new stadium will still be a place almost entirely accessible by car or bus or RV or whatever. It will still be a big building on a bigger piece of land with another big piece of land next door to house all the vehicles and such. In Buffalo, tailgating is a major part of the Bills’ fan experience; a downtown stadium would almost certainly have made tailgating mostly a thing of the past, at least as we know it now. Tailgating will survive now, so…yay. (This is the fanbase that drunkenly jumps through folding tables, so I won’t say that I was much swayed by nostalgic appeals to tailgating.)
The other big debate about the stadium was whether or not it should have a dome. As you can see by the renderings, the current design is not domed, which you might think a surprise given how the weather around here can be. Now, as always, it’s worth the eternal Buffalo-rejoinder about our weather: “On average it really isn’t that bad in winter here, you just hear about the few times it does get really bad, and anyway, it’s spring that’s massively unpleasant here, winter’s fine.” And yes, all of that is true. And while more teams play in enclosed stadiums now than ever before, there are still hold-outs that play in the open air in northern climes: the Packers, Steelers, Browns, Giants-Jets, and Patriots all play in open-air stadiums. It’ll be fine here, especially if, as built, it’s got a bit more cover than Highmark Stadium, which somehow manages to surround you with concrete and make you feel more exposed to the elements.
And with the “What, no dome?!” reactions come the real pie-in-the-sky dreamers, the ones who say (and yes, they really do say this), “But if it’s not a dome, then Buffalo can’t host a Super Bowl!”
Look, folks. Buffalo could build the single-greatest domed stadium in the history of such venues. They could build it right downtown, and give it a Metro Rail spur with a station right there in the building. They could build it within walking distance of all those nice new downtown hotels…and Buffalo would still be unable to host a Super Bowl.
Like it or not, Buffalo for all its charms and all the work it’s doing to try to reverse its sixty-years of bad economic and demographic fortune is simply too small to host an event as big as a Super Bowl. One person actually said to me on Twitter, “How is Buffalo too small? Stadiums can only set 70000 people. It’s not like the stadium doubles its capacity for the game.” It’s almost like it comes as news to these folks that the Super Bowl brings quite a few times as many people to the host cities as can attend the game. I found an article indicating that when Atlanta hosted Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, more than half a million people flooded the city.
Buffalo, at this time, simply does not have the hotel stock or transportation infrastructure for a week-long influx of that many people. The most recent illustrative example is Jacksonville, FL, which hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. Jacksonville is often cited as the worst host city of the last couple decades; most famously, that city’s lack of hotel stock at the time was addressed by docking cruise ships in the city’s harbor to act as temporary hotels. And Jacksonville is a city that’s three times the size of Buffalo, in terms of population. (I think it’s obvious that docking cruise ships in Buffalo’s harbor in February is simply not gonna happen.)
So, summing up, my reaction to all this stadium talk is basically, “Sure, OK, looks fine, I’m sure it’ll be a lovely place to see a game if you can afford it, we shouldn’t have to pay for it but we will, and can we please knock off the Super Bowl-hosting talk? Anyway, Go Bills.”
Go Bills, indeed.
As a NYS taxpayer, I was… annoyed by this deal, ticked off with the governor (but not enough to vote for her terrible, awful, no-good opponent).
I saw the Atlanta Braves play in 1995, two stadia ago! That’s not just obscene, it’s kind of weird.
Buffalo DEFINITELY should be considered for a Super Bowl. With climate change, it COULD be 50F (10C) at kickoff.
I’m not enamored of Governor Hochul either. She was my Congressional representative years ago, for two terms, and I wasn’t super impressed then either, particularly when Chris Collins challenged her and in a serious fight she tried tacking to the right in this district. It’s strange, for such a blue state I really haven’t taken much of a liking to ANY governor since we moved to NYS in 1981! The one I disliked the least was probably Patterson, oddly enough.
I was rather fond of Mario, but he stayed on too long and should have taken the SCOTUS seat when offered. (Of course, that seat ended up with RBG, so it’s just as well.)