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Unknown Stories of WNY: A parade of plans, a look back at Bills stadium proposals of the past

The call for, and debate over, a new stadium is as old as the Bills themselves.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The debate over new stadiums is as old as the Buffalo Bills. In fact in 1958, the City Planning Commission proposed a downtown stadium, right where KeyBank Center and Harbor Center stand today, it would have even included a heliport.

In 1967, there was talk of a side-by-side stadium plan, for either Hamburg or Amherst, that even studies on traffic flows. That same year, a familiar site was in the mix. It was called the Crossroads Site then, it is the same Old First Ward location a lot of people have pushed today. 

Then in 1968 there was a push for a stadium at the corner of Genesee and Transit. A lot of ideas and public opinion, pushed in large part by the merger in big league football, says John Boutet of the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. 

"It dates back to 1966 when the American Football League and the National Football League signed the merger agreement," said Boutet. "And quite simply, they stated that every team had to have a 50,000 minimum seating capacity, of which Buffalo did not have that."

Boutet added that the new league put major pressure on Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson. The power play was on, with an implied threat to move the team to the west coast if he didn't get a replacement for the aging War Memorial Stadium, lovingly known as The Rockpile. 

"They knew that there was no more adding on to The Rockpile, the place was starting to show its age and the National Football League said, 'Ralph Wilson you need a new stadium, whether it's in Buffalo, whether it's in Seattle, somewhere you need to build a new stadium,'" Boutet said.

The plan that probably got the most traction, before falling to the wayside, were 1970 designs for a dome in Lancaster. It was a project that Erie County backed out of when it went way over-budget, leading to a decades-long lawsuit, and the stadium being built in Orchard Park. 

Boutet says, that move also took another opportunity off the table. 

"In the late '60s and early '70s  Major League Baseball was looking to expand and they had told the representatives in Buffalo that they would be getting the Washington Senator franchise if that dome in Lancaster would be built," Boutet said. "When that fell through, the Senators ended up moving to Texas and are now the Texas Rangers."

Another 'what if' in Buffalo sports history, filed away in the Unknown Stories of WNY.

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