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Bills unveil upgrade designs for Ralph Wilson Stadium

Plans for renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium were shared with Erie County lawmakers and County Executive Mark Poloncarz in Orchard Park Thursday. The $130 million project, which is part of the recently agreed to lease extension with the county, includes a new entrance plaza along the Abbott Road side of the stadium with an expanded team store, upgraded restrooms and concession areas, a second video scoreboard, a rebuilt east end zone concourse, and redesigned entry gates.

Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick says given the large amount of revenue generated by the team, he thinks the cost is a good deal.

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
Architect Scott Radecic (r.) shows a group of county lawamkers proposed changes to 'The Ralph.'

"I was very impressed with what they're doing for the money [with which] they're doing it. I'm very grateful they're not going for the full renovation or the new stadium. I think what it comes down to is justifying the expense of the approximately $10 million per year for the next 10 years on behalf of the taxpayers of Erie County," Hardwick said.

Legislator Ed Rath, an Amherst Republican, says Bills fans and taxpayers will be pleased.  

"I think the tax consequences, from what we've heard from the Bills and from the County in our discussions, are basically break-even. When you look at income taxes that are paid and sales tax that comes in to our community, I think this is a very important investment that we're making for the long-term viability of the Bills, as well as the economic viability of our community," Rath said.

Former Bills linebacker Scott Radecic, a senior partner with the architecture firm Populous, provided the overview of the project. The team unveiled conceptual drawings of a proposed renovations.

Construction is scheduled to get underway this year, with a projected completion date of 2015.

The proposed lease for the Orchard Park facility calls for a study into a new stadium before the lease's ten years are up. There is only one serious plan on the table right now: the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex's design for the Outer Harbor.

Erie County Legislature Chairperson Betty Jean Grant held a public meeting Wednesday night in the Merriweather Library to let the sponsors talk about the stadium proposals, its jobs and its economic development opportunities.

Speaking for the group, Pat Freeman says it's a year-round plan with a cost estimate around $1.3 billion.

"[It's] mostly private money and that's the advantage because a lot of these projects around the country are mostly public money. This is a mostly private money project and that's what makes it so special. We're not putting a burden on the taxpayers," Freeman said.

Grant says wants to start looking at the plan, and potentially others, because there are hundreds of jobs and taxpayer money at stake.

"I like the concept...because they say there's no public money per se," Grant said. "Anything that the public doesn't have to pay for is a benefit for the taxpayers."

The plan includes a museum of play backed by The Strong, a Rochester facility built around sports and play.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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