ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills fans have called Highmark Stadium home for nearly 50 years, but a new stadium agreement means the place fans have affectionately called “The Ralph” could soon meet the wrecking ball.
Current plans include demolishing the stadium and turning it into a parking lot. According to Erie County, the team will be required to demolish the current stadium when the new one is built.
However, in a statement on the Buffalo Bills website, Pegula Sports & Entertainment spokesperson Ron Raccuia wrote, "that's still to be determined and will be discussed moving forward. Stay tuned."
Could parts of the stadium be preserved?
A 2019 report developed for Pegula Sports & Entertainment (PSE) and analyzed by the 7 News I-Team shows the structure of Highmark Stadium has potential to be redeveloped.
Consultants found the depressed field and lower bowl of the stadium, “represent a unique attraction to consider for alternative recreation/entertainment uses once the new stadium is developed.”
The report suggests the re-use of Highmark Stadium as a new opportunity for exploring how to leverage the existing venue and surrounding area.
“A recreation driven regional destination could leverage the facility’s existing assets, and perhaps be expanded to include a series of related fields and/or indoor sports venues,” the report reads in part.
If the structure was redeveloped, there would be a net loss of 14 acres of land for parking at the new stadium, according to the report.
Facility condition assessments created by PSE consultants Populous and CAA ICON paint a bleak picture of parts of the fourth oldest NFL stadium, especially of the upper deck.
The assessment found the poor condition of the “nosebleed” sections would necessitate its replacement within 20 years, meaning if the Highmark Stadium structure is redeveloped it wouldn’t include the upper deck.
Engineering firm AECOM’s 2021 stadium analysis for Empire State Development included the demolition of Highmark Stadium in its report.
As part of the Bills 2013 lease agreement with Erie County, $130 million was invested into the county-owned facility. The investment included $35 million from the Bills’ organization, $54 million from New York State and $41 million from the county.
The original home of the Buffalo Bills repurposed
When the Bills first hit the turf in 1960, they called War Memorial Stadium home. Located between Dodge and Best Streets, for thirteen seasons fans came through the gates.
The stadium was demolished in 1989, with two small sections being preserved as part of the Johnnie B. Wiley Sports Pavilion. The pavilion offers amateur sports programs, mentoring, and enrichment activities with the help of volunteers.
Earlier this month, the city announced it will use $23 million from the American Rescue Plan for improvement projects at the sports pavilion.
The Bills are expected to play at Highmark Stadium through at least 2025.
Spokespersons for the Buffalo Bills and Erie County did not respond to a request for comment about the future of the stadium.