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Joe B: New stadium model the Bills could follow

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Posted at 1:35 PM, Jun 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-07 13:35:35-04

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

Before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ever stepped foot in Western New York for the 30th annual Jim Kelly Celebrity Classic, and subsequently discussed the idea of a potential new stadium in Buffalo, the entire conversation was underscored by the day Terry and Kim Pegula officially became the owners of the Buffalo Bills.

Back in October of 2014, all 32 teams got together in New York City for the NFL Owner’s Meetings, and the biggest reason for it was the unanimous ratification of the Pegulas as new Bills owners. The vote was made swiftly, and the rest of the league were satisfied with their plan for the team moving forward.

The plan, to most every owner that stopped and talked with the media during that day, involved a new stadium in Buffalo.

Pittsburgh Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney II said to The Buffalo News, of the need for new facilities in Buffalo, “It’s going to be important.”

Shad Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars — a team that some will put in the same discussion as the Bills — was quite plain in his thoughts on the matter. “Just like anything else, to bring the fans, they need a different venue. And they will, I am sure, address it at the right time. You’ve got to have a competitive game-day experience.”

And then there’s Bob McNair, who is not only the owner of the Houston Texans, but serves as the chairman of the NFL’s finance committee. He was the most outspoken of the bunch.

“Well, you know certainly we recognize they have a need for a new stadium there,” McNair said. “They’ve indicated that they recognize that that’s a top priority and they’re going to work on it. We will support them any way we can.”

There it is in plain sight. When the Pegulas met with the owners in 2014, at least according to McNair, a new stadium was a big part of the plan. And while it’s been met with some spirited local opposition, the sentiments echoed by the National Football League has remained the same since that day.

“What does it take to try to make sure the Bills can remain here on a successful basis? That’s their objective, and I know that’s their commitment,” Goodell said in Batavia on Monday. “Stadiums are important, just in making sure that the team here can compete not only throughout the NFL, but also compete in this environment. You’ve got great facilities here [in the NFL] now, and the Bills have to stay up with that.”

There isn’t any timetable, although one could look to the end of lease between the Bills, the state of New York, and Erie County that is set to run through 2023, for an educated guess as to when something could happen on the new stadium front.

The biggest questions — and ones that Goodell raised on Monday — are in regards to the location, what makes the most sense for the community, and ideally how to make it all work. And as far as new stadiums go, one venue stands out as a semi-realistic option to answer all those questions.

If the Bills elect to build a stadium in downtown Buffalo, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is one that makes a lot of sense to model a new facility after.

Not only for the retractable roof and the movable window wall for more natural lighting in the stadium, (which would attract more venues outside of the 10 regular season home games per year), but for the relative cost and the overhaul of the city’s convention center.

The cost of that stadium, which opened in 2008, was nearly $720 million and helped turned Indianapolis into a destination for sporting events — not just Colts games. The city’s convention center, which many in Buffalo would argue their own needs a bit of a reboot itself, not only provided numerous meeting rooms for businesses and conferences.

It also brought a covered walkway that connects Lucas Oil Stadium to a few of downtown Indianapolis’ major hotels, and also serves as a guide for people to the heart of the downtown area. That covered walkway serves to nullify the harshness of some of the winter months, which is certainly a concern for the Buffalo area, too.

Since that time, the city of Indianapolis and their multi-purpose new stadium has hosted a Super Bowl, the NCAA Men’s Final Four, and multiple big concert events.

Having been to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium multiple times for the NFL Scouting Combine, I can personally vouch for how convenient the connected walkways are for getting around the city on foot during the winter months.

The next question is a pretty standard one: How was it paid for?

According to a summary put together by Conventions Sports & Leisure (and posted by CBSMinnesota.com), 86-percent of the $720 million cost was through public funding. That brought on an increase in Marion County hotel tax, county car rental tax, restaurant tax for both the county and six surrounding counties, county admissions tax, and sales of Colts license plates.

The $720 million, although eye-popping, is far behind in cost of the state of the art stadiums most recently built in Dallas ($1.2 billion), New Jersey ($1.6 billion), San Francisco ($987 million), and Minnesota ($1.1 billion).

Now, make no mistake, this isn’t a space for me to call for a new stadium by any means. With how the entire NFL has talked about Buffalo — and the future of a new stadium in Buffalo — this is simply a look at what could benefit the city the most in terms of a multi-use new facility.

If it has to happen, and the Pegulas all but confirmed that to the league back in 2014, then this could be the best bet.

With the burgeoning resurgence of the downtown area by the Pegulas and new hotels being built around it, if downtown is the location, the Indianapolis model is one to strongly consider.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia