Bills hire architectural firm for stadium facelift tied to new lease

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ralph Wilson Stadium requires an extensive facelift expected to cost tens of millions in taxpayer dollars for a project that would be tied to the Buffalo Bills renewing their lease with both state and county governments within two years, The Associated Press has learned.

Bills CEO Russ Brandon told the AP that the team has hired a world-leading architectural firm, Populous, which specializes in sports facility projects to conduct a thorough study of what improvements are necessary to both upgrade the stadium's existing structure and add fan-friendly, revenue-generating enhancements.

Brandon called the renovations and upgrades necessary in order keep the stadium viable and competitive with many of the NFL's newer facilities to help ensure the Bills long-term future in western New York.

"We have an older facility and it needs some tender love and care," Brandon said. "And it's our main objective to make sure the bones of this facility, which are very sound, remain sound for many, many years to come."

Brandon wouldn't say what fan amenities are being considered, but they could include upgrading everything from the aging, outdated washrooms to adding restaurants, bars and additional vendors inside the facility.

The 39-year-old stadium's last significant upgrade, which cost about $63 million, was in 1997. That work, also at taxpayer's expense, was done as part of the team's current lease, which runs through July 2013.

Erie County executive Chris Collins told the AP he is expecting the cost to range anywhere from $40 million to more than $100 million.

Collins has had informal talks with the Bills over the past year, and expects the cost of the project to be included in lease negotiations. He expects the state to foot much of the bill. He said the county doesn't have the financial resources, and Albany has more to gain with the Bills staying in Orchard Park.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed the need for stadium improvements while attending the Bills' home game against Philadelphia two weeks ago.

"These stadiums don't run on their own. They get old, just like your house get old," Goodell said. "The Bills, the state and the county have done a great job of continuing to make improvements to the stadium to keep it competitive. But you have to continue that."

The stadium's technological capacity is outdated, making it difficult for TV networks to string cables to provide high-definition broadcasts.

Brandon continued to allay fans' fears of the team's potential relocation.

"Our responsibility has always been keeping this team financially viable," Brandon said. "We've found ways of doing that over the past decade, and look forward to doing it for many years to come."

The Bills' future in Buffalo remains a concern because Hall of Fame owner and founder, Ralph Wilson, has said it's his intention to have his family sell the franchise once he dies. Wilson turned 93 on Monday.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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