Friday, April 08, 2005

I think it's BRILLIANT!

Craig points out a pretty nifty damned idea: one of Buffalo's elected officials thinks that, even in the face of fiscal calamity so bad that Charmin recently donated toilet paper to the County so that they could have some in the bathrooms in the County Building, Buffalo should build a new stadium downtown for the Bills. Hearing this idea, I'm reminded of that scene in Roxanne when the Steve Martin character comes upon two of his townsfolk who share with him some supremely goofy idea, and Martin walks off saying something like, "Why, I think it's brilliant! I think it's great! Dare I call it genius? It's like he saw the idea there, ripe on the tree, and he reached out and plucked it and put it in his pocket! And I was there! I saw it happen!"

Of course, I don't think this is a good idea. In fact, I think it's a colossally stupid idea, and I'm not much impressed by the fact that this is coming not from the Bills but from some legislator. The Bills' lease at their current home, Ralph Wilson Stadium, is up in seven years, and this guy is saying that since they'll probably make noises about a new stadium, we should head them off at the pass or something like that.

Hogwash. Nonsense. Bullshit. In that order.

Ralph Wilson Stadium (hereafter "RWS") is a fine facility, even for being thirty years old. It has plenty of parking, it's easy to get to, its sightlines are outstanding. What it probably doesn't offer are all the stadium "bells and whistles" that modern stadiums are supposed to have: lots of luxury seating and whatnot. But the thing is, the stadium can be refurbished to build more of that kind of thing (which they already did back in 1998), and I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to doing that again. Green Bay recently refurbished Lambeau Field, after all. It can be done.

But that -- refurbishing and rejuvenating RWS -- is as far as I am willing to go. A totally new stadium, in downtown? As they say downstate where they're trying to build a stadium of their own (with state tax dollars, meaning that I -- who will in all likelihood never attend a NYJets game -- get to help pay for it), "Fuhgeddaboudit!" Here are my reasons for this:

:: Parking. Stadiums require tons of it, and downtown Buffalo already has a parking glut. A stadium would require tons more parking, which would choke off real estate that I'd rather see developed into parks, businesses, and residences.

:: Economic spinoff. Can't we for all time bury the myth that giant, glitzy sports arenas spark all manner of economic development? It just isn't true. In downtown Buffalo, we've built a really nice minor-league baseball stadium (back when Buffalo was still seriously in the running for getting an MLB franchise), and it hasn't sparked development on its surrounding streets. Neither has HSBC Arena, built a decade ago for the Sabres (and this season maintained by the County without a single dime of revenue coming in from hockey games). Economic development in a place like downtown Buffalo is going to be the result of two things, as I see it: housing for people who want to live in a city, and a more friendly small-business environment that will encourage entrepreneurship. A downtown stadium does none of these things.

:: Frequency of use. How many times would a downtown stadium be used? Well, each NFL team hosts two preseason games and eight regular season games. That's ten. And if the Bills are the top seed in the playoffs, there are two more potential games for them to host. We're up to twelve. (I suppose that if the SuperGlitzy Stadium was domed, it could even host a Super Bowl some year, which would bring the total number of uses up to thirteen.) Then, maybe there would be a handful of large concerts or the like. I think that charitably we might be able to see the SuperGlitzyDome used twenty times a year, tops.

And remember: there will still be a big stadium sitting there to the south, in Orchard Park, not being used. What happens to that land? Does the old RWS still get used once in a while? Is it bulldozed? How expensive would that be?

:: Ralph Wilson. The Bills' owner is, as far as I am concerned, a class act. He's had more than enough opportunities to take the Bills to someplace willing to roll out the carpet for an NFL franchise, and he's shown more backbone and community loyalty than, say, Art Modell, who stabbed his community in the back as soon as the dollar signs were plentiful enough. But the problem with Wilson is this: he is in his 80s. If he dies, the fate of the Bills will be thrown into serious doubt, especially if there is no local buyer wealthy enough to take on the team and keep it here.

For me, the choice is simple. If the Bills need more luxury seat revenue, then figure out a way to build more luxury seats onto RWS. But that's it. This community cannot afford to build a new venue, and either keep or destroy the old one. And if it comes down to one of those "Build me the stadium or the team's out of here" scenarios, then I say without cheer but also without hesitation: "Long Live the Los Angeles Bills."

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