FOXBOROUGH, Mass — With all the talk about a new Buffalo Bills stadium, very little is known about what will go around it, if anything.
The team's current home in Orchard Park has been relatively secluded for the last 50 years, especially when you compare it to other NFL stadiums. Other than the stadium, training facilities, team offices, and a few restaurants along Abbott and Southwestern Boulevard, there isn't much development around One Bills Drive.
Should that change with the new build?
Local elected leaders are exploring development options. So, why not consider the saying: you can learn from anyone... even your enemies.
Building a destination around an NFL stadium was a relatively new concept 20 years ago, which is when one of the prime examples, Patriot Place, in Foxborough, Massachusetts was just being thought up.
Patriot Place is a so-called lifestyle mall with shops, bars and restaurants, two hotels, and many more attractions… plus a medical center.
“We were the first and you know, I think we’ve been very, very successful,” said Patriot Place General Manager Brian Earley.
Earley has been running Patriot Place since it opened in 2007. It was a unique venture for New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but since then other teams around the league have adopted the idea, like the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals.
“There was a lot of empty space that was underutilized, so they came up with this concept of a mixed-use development around the stadium, which has really flourished over the years and it continues to grow and now really serves as I think is the blueprint for the rest of the NFL,” said Foxborough Town Manager William Keegan.
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Unlike the future home of the Buffalo Bills, Gillette Stadium was built using entirely private money. Patriot Place was no different and cost the Kraft Group, which owns and manages the mini-mall, an estimated $350 million. Earley said the development of Patriot Place started at the same time as the stadium although there’s a five-year gap between when they were completed. The stadium was finished in 2002.
“They had a vision in 1999 when they talked about building Gillette Stadium they had several hundred acres around it (300+), that what were they going to do, how could they make it a daily destination for folks in New England,” Earley said.
Patriot Place is located about halfway between Boston and Providence. Combined, the two city’s metro areas are more than five times the size of the Buffalo metro area.
While you might think Gillette Stadium is the main draw for these major New England cities, it only attracts about four million people per year. Earley says, comparatively, Patriot Place brings in more than nine million people per year. And just like the current set in Orchard Park, all 1.3 million square feet of Patriot Place were previously parking lots for the old Foxboro Stadium.
It’s worth noting, Patriot Place is one of the only large shopping/lifestyle centers around Foxborough. While the corner of Abbott Road and Southwestern Boulevard are in very close proximity to two, the McKinley Mall and Quakers Crossing.
“You know prior to Patriot Place, there was really not a reason to come down Route 1 in Foxborough during the offseason,” said Earley.
Randy Scollins the former Finance Director for the Town of Foxborough helped renegotiate the town's Gillette Stadium deal and one for Patriot Place in 2005.
“It's not just an event-based operation up there it's commercial activity 365 days a year they're constantly active,” Scollins said.
Instead of property taxes, Foxborough gets a portion of revenue from ticket sales at the stadium, and taxes for hotel occupancy. Foxborough has dramatically benefitted from Patriot Place Scollins said and continues to do so as the Kraft Group expands. He believes a similar, or scaled-back development could have the same impact in a place like Orchard Park.
“You know any responsible town leadership whether it be elected leadership or the paid leadership in the town for not looking after economic development we're not doing our job,” said Scollins.
“If you were to look at the previous stadium versus what it is now, it's as different as night and day… a multi-purpose complex that can be well used and generate some significant revenue for the town,” said Foxborough Manager William Keegan.
The tax revenue generated at Patriot Place, between $8 million and $10 million, accounts for about 10% of Foxboro's yearly budget Keegan said. Whether that same benefit could be seen in Orchard Park Keegan says will depend on what's built and what vision developers have for the space.
Talk of a "Bills Place" near Abbott Road and Southwestern Boulevard has largely come from town and county leadership. 2 On Your Side has previously spoken to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Orchard Park Town Supervisor Gene Majchrzak, and Hamburg Town Supervisor Randy Hoak about the possibility of development, but only in vague terms. In Foxborough, Scollins said the Patriot Place discussion was almost entirely driven by Patriots’ ownership.
In April, a representative for Bills ownership, Pegula Sports and Entertainment was asked about additional development by the Erie County Legislature, which is set to approve their $250 million chunk to fund the stadium project in the coming weeks.
“Do the Bills plan on building any additional buildings around similar to something like in New England?” asked Erie County Legislator Christopher Greene.
“First, we aren't developers, we will certainly support any developer who wants to come in and enhance the experience and the economy in WNY,” responded Ron Raccuia, Executive Vice President of Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
The stadium study contracted by New York State projected "little to no ancillary development" in Orchard Park but also stated, "this could change through concerted policy efforts by the municipality, county, state, and the team…"
With those parties seemingly bound to lead an effort like Foxborough, Scollins and Earley said success in WNY, will depend on planning everything far ahead of time; after all, it took seven years to map out Gillette Stadium construction and Patriot Place combined.
“The whole zoning aspect is key so that table needs to be set but as far as other pieces, community engagement, you know it's easy to say and easy to overlook,” said Scollins.
He added, “there's a lot of middle ground you know things that would benefit the developer that the town can provide and things that will benefit the town and that the developer can provide."
“There's never enough time in the development pipeline. So if there are thoughts about doing this, it has to be done in parallel to what's happening with the stadium,” Patriot Place Brian Earley said.
When asked if he thinks a scaled-down version could still be successful, given the difference in market size between Boston-Providence and Buffalo, Foxborough Town Manager William Keegan concluded.
“I do think that could be the case. Let's, let's face it, everybody's economy is built upon what it currently is. And I think that if you have a situation where it doesn't have the higher level of demand, financially that you do in say, other parts of the country, then that also will fit into its own niche,” said Keegan.
The Buffalo Bills' $1.4 billion Memorandum of Understanding is set to be finalized and signed by September 2022, which leaves plenty of time for further development discussions to really take root.