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New Bills stadium site: what are some of the economic development ideas?

Designers of Green Bay's Titletown Complex might assist the Orchard Park Chamber of Commerce.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — While the focus is on the Buffalo Bills with their practices and preseason preps, some may consider their new in-part taxpayer funded stadium for the future.

And still others may be doing some longer range thinking to what else could happen around the stadium with potential new development to make it more of a destination spot with some regional marketing.

Executive Director Don Lorentz of the Orchard Park Chamber of Commerce puts it this way: "It would be great for our community that when people come to the first game, they could actually say, 'We're going to stay for the weekend, we're going to stay for a week,' and have activities for our families."

That vision from Lorentz as he contemplates what else could come beyond a new stadium and perhaps sweep away the current isolation of under-utilization of land around and near the stadium complex.

Erie County Legislator John Mills, who represents Orchard Park, says he has provided Lorentz and the Chamber of Commerce with a $50,000 in county funding to help cover the cost of an economic development study.

Mills is one of three county lawmakers who is negotiating with the county executive, state, and Bills organization on a $100 million Community Benefits Agreement tied to the stadium project. Those discussions are strictly private at the request of County Executive Mark Poloncarz and attorneys.

Lorentz envisions both the Patriot Place retail, office, services mix concept as we've shown you before surrounding Gillette Stadium in the much larger Boston market.

But actually, the Titletown development built around Lambeau Field in Green Bay may be closer to the mark. He is already in touch with their planners.

"They're both suburban stadiums, just like we're going to be having, and they're successful 12 months out of the year," Lorentz said. "They draw people for the entire year. I'm saying, why not build on their success and make this the hub, and then from here we build out to the region?

"They've supplied me with some of their strategic plans that they've designed for me to look at, and it's a perfect blueprint. So my goal would be, can I reach out to the same companies that they used and maybe have them design the same or similar type of strategic plan for Orchard Park?"

Lorentz also has an idea for a location, but it's not right around the stadium. Lorentz suggests land right across from the existing Quaker Crossing retail complex on Milestrip Road.

"Build across the street from there," Lorentz said. "Build a beautiful hotel, a museum, everything else, and you're within walking distance to the stadium, or we can shuttle people to the stadium from there."

He suggests that development could then work on a parallel track, while the new $1.4 billion stadium is being built so that both could be ready for opening in 2026.

"I've talked to some of the developers, and if we take it off of county or state property, they have an opportunity to be able to bid on that, bring their laborers in here, and actually do something with it," Lorentz said.

While the Bills organization has told lawmakers it is not in the development game, it would not discourage any such talk from private developers.

Orchard Park town supervisor Eugene Majchrzak says so far he has not heard from any developers. And he feels this way regarding any potential development location:

"It really depends on what the stadium complex campus is going to look like. As to where a developer might want to put a hotel or a restaurant. I would think it would be nearby."

The supervisor realizes town hall must address another development issue.

"We have a height limit on hotels and structures and so on, two and a half stories. We might have to create a variance for a zone where something taller might be permitted," Majchrzak said.

Green Bay and New England officials say there was a lot of mutual pre-planning to make any stadium related economic development work in their communities and now they have hotel and sales taxes coming in.

So far both Lorentz and Majchrzak say nobody from the Bills, the county executive's office, or state has really reached out on that topic or any other points with the town, so they may be trying to get the discussion started to see where it goes.  

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