The Buffalo Bills’ stadium of the future is designed with a distinct nod to the past.
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The team released its much-anticipated designs Thursday for its new stadium, which will be built across the road from its current facility in Orchard Park.
The tall, strongly vertical structure is designed with a partial roof and a perforated metal exterior that allows fans approaching from the plaza to get a peek at the inside of the stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2026.
That exterior – or “skin,” as architects often call it – is designed in vertical sections that are reminiscent of mid-20th century Buffalo architecture, including Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Kleinhans Music Hall and War Memorial Stadium.
“Buffalo is world-renowned for our architecture,” said Ron Raccuia, the Bills’ executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We feel this is an appropriate way to honor the past (as) we move into the future.”
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The metal skin is met by a curved brick wall that is shorter – or in architectural jargon, “human scale” – and adjacent to the stadium’s entrances.
In the plaza outside the stadium’s main entrance, an area called the “family circle” has a clan of buffalo statues, the largest of which appear to be at least two stories tall. (Precise dimensions are still being determined.) The plaza will be open year-round.
“We created a lot of exterior gathering spaces that don’t have to be ticketed,” Raccuia said. “We want people to be able to come and enjoy the stadium and the experiences 365 days a year.”
The Bills are still developing ideas for “what the family circle is ultimately going to be,” Raccuia added. “Our initial thoughts are around celebrating the history of the Buffalo Bills and the history of our community, including the nations, and we’re working with the Senecas and others on how to honor their past on this property as well.
“To us, it’s a celebration of Western New York, including the Bills; not necessarily just the Bills.”
The stadium’s stacked seating levels are designed to help retain heat on colder days, while the partial roof – or canopy – provides coverage from precipitation for about 65% of the stadium seats. That includes all of the upper deck, most of the end zone area, and some of the lower bowl.
The top of the stadium is designed with a slight curvature. That shaped roof line gives it an “aerodynamic form, in the way that the wind would be rolling over the top of the building, essentially skipping off the canopy,” said Jonathan Mallie, a senior principal and director at Populous, the architecture firm designing the stadium.
On a functional level, that will help drive Lake Erie winds over the facility, rather than inviting them to swirl around inside the bowl, as happens at Highmark.
The meshlike perforations will help absorb some of the wind, too, making the game day experience on stormy days a more comfortable one for quarterbacks and kickers – and fans.
“First and foremost, it’s an outdoor stadium,” Mallie said. “It’s not like all the wind in the world will be blocked out. But what we had to do is come up with an application and usage of materials and form of the building that would, to the greatest extent possible, manage the wind and make it a bearable environment. Something that fans really haven’t had all these years in Orchard Park.”
‘Football-first, very loud, very intense’
Elements of the still-ongoing stadium design – including the canopy, stacked levels and slightly open exterior – can be traced to some of the newer Major League Soccer stadiums (particularly the Columbus Crew’s Lower.com Field) and London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a soccer facility that was also built for use by the National Football League.
Raccuia said team officials visited “dozens of stadiums and venues” in and outside the United States. “We took what we thought were a lot of the best attributes of each of them,” he said, “and tried to incorporate them into our program, which was (a) football-first, very loud, very intense stadium.”
Matt Davison, a founder of the 25-plus-member Business Backs Buffalo Football committee, issued a statement applauding the designs. It read, in part: “From crisp sightlines, an extended canopy and covered seats, to acoustics and access, this design has been shaped with the football fan in mind.”
The sports consulting group Legends, which is co-founded by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, helped facilitate the development of the Bills ownership’s stadium vision, particularly for details that are still to be released: club and luxury seating, amenities, and sales program and pricing for personal seat licenses and season tickets.
Community advocates feel left out of the negotiations for a community benefits agreement tied to the new $1.4 billion Buffalo Bills stadium planned for Orchard Park.
The sale of PSLs will help cover part of the Pegula’s expected $550 million contribution to the project, which will cost at least $1.4 billion. The rest of the funding is coming from New York state ($600 million) and Erie County ($250 million).
The Business Back Buffalo Football statement also acknowledged Buffalo’s comparatively tiny market size: “Our committee looks forward to learning more about the advanced offerings and premium seating details that will attract current and new corporate sponsors and suite holders – which are essential to keeping the franchise economically viable in one of the league’s smallest markets.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Gov. Kathy Hochul have both emphasized the public contribution is vital to keeping the team in Buffalo, which is the second-smallest market in the NFL.
“We’re proud to have them. It’s part of who we are,” Hochul, a Democrat running for a four-year term, said during her debate this week with her Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is critical of the stadium deal. “But you have to give incentives to make it worthwhile.”
The stadium renderings, which belong to the Bills, were released less than 48 hours after Zeldin said he would be inclined to renegotiate the agreement if he is elected governor on Nov. 8.
Unveiling the renderings had the effect of shifting the public dialogue, at least temporarily, from Zeldin’s debate comments (“We can absolutely have a better deal,” he said.) and the ongoing talks between the team, state and county to finalize the deal. But when asked Thursday whether the election cycle drove the timing of the release, Raccuia said no.
“The election cycle had absolutely nothing to do with the release of drawings,” he said. “Like everything involved in this project, we have open communication with the state, the county, and the NFL, and we were all aligned in releasing the renderings.”