Walking through the quiet streets of Orchard Park, surrounded by green parks and townhouses, offers a feeling of absolute peace. The small town in Erie County, New York state, has just under 30,000 residents, about 7,600 households and a population density of 290 inhabitants per square mile. Yet this quiet and peaceful town located not far from New York City sometimes transforms into something else. People pour in for miles around, the noise is deafening, and chaos replaces calm. That’s because Orchard Park is the location of the Highmark Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills, one of the teams that play in America’s National Football League (NFL).
This stadium, first opened in 1973 as Rich Stadium and now the fourth-oldest in the NFL, has remained a landmark over the years not only for Orchard Park residents. Thousands of people flock here from Buffalo, the city on Lake Erie with a population of nearly 300,000, and from many towns in upstate New York, to watch Buffalo Bills games, with a record 80,368 paying fans attending the game against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 4, 1992.
Since then, the stadium has played a role as an integrated infrastructure in the area and a major social driver for entertainment and culture. And now, precisely because of its importance, the Highmark Stadium will be replaced by a new and more modern venue, an impressive infrastructure equipped with the most innovative technologies, where the best of engineering technology is put at the service of sports.
Public and private funding for a cutting-edge infrastructure
Work will begin soon, because the plan envisioned by the administrations involved in the project is highly complex. The new Buffalo Bills stadium will have a capacity of 62,000 seats and is budgeted at $1.35 billion (€1.35 billion). To build it, the old Highmark Stadium will be demolished and entirely replaced by a modern and innovative, but above all, more sustainable structure. Sustainability is at the heart of the project, from the choice of construction materials to the management of the construction site, to the very functionality of the stadium, designed to reduce air pollution as much as possible.
The idea of building a new stadium dates from 2014, when the governor of New York State brought together a study group consisting of interested mayors, the football team, and construction companies to propose a plan to rebuild the stadium. Then a working group was created that included a U.S. senator as well as citizen representatives, and it held a series of meetings to arrive at a shared plan. Eventually, on March 28, 2022, an agreement was reached between the state of New York, Erie County, and the owners of the Bills detailing what the new facility would look like, and set 2026 as a delivery date.
In the end, the $1.35 billion investment was split between the state, the county, the team and the National Football League itself, which offered a $200 million loan. The ownership of the facility will end up in the hands of New York State, which will invest the largest share or $600 million. With Erie County kicking in $250 million, it means a total of $850 million is coming from taxes paid by New York State residents.
A look at the new Buffalo Bills stadium
The wait, especially for fans, has been a long one. Finally, renderings have now been made public showing how the new stadium at Orchard Park will look, and outlining its features.
The idea behind the project was to bring the fans as close to the sporting event as possible. On one hand, the goal is to increase comfort by providing a partial cover to protect from the rain, and also radiant heating systems for the winter. On the other hand, builders looked for architectural solutions that are able to channel the roar of the fans onto the playing field, thus increasing the participatory experience during games.
“The stadium will create a new place to foster the iconic culture of the Bills fan base, while creating an exciting vision for the future of the franchise and the community,” said Scott Radecic, senior principal at Populous, the group that designed the stadium and has built over 12 others for the NFL.
In addition to the field and bleachers, the stadium will feature entertainment areas, with bars, restaurants, and meeting places, as well as standing only areas equipped with big screens where fans left without tickets will be able to watch the games. This new conception of sports can only be experienced and expressed through an impressive and modern infrastructure like the new Buffalo Bills stadium.