The $130 million facelift to 41-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium will include better beer service as in 55 "beer only" points in the concession area, but there's no guarantee that any amount of beer will mask another 6 and 10 product on the field, and one can only hope that the old stadium's upgrades translate into a winning season for a change.
When fans go to the stadium for the first time this year on Saturday, Aug. 23, for a preseason game against Tampa Bay, the renovations to the old "Ralph" will be pretty much complete, according to our sources.
"The work is way ahead of schedule, and will be pretty much ready for the first preseason game," said one official who is among those monitoring the renovation of the stadium that was part of the new lease agreement between state and county taxpayers and the Bills.
Lest anyone forget, the state is in for close to $55 million and the county for a little over $40 million, leaving the Bills picking up the rest, or about $27 million of the total cost to make the stadium a little more fan friendly (read that $$$ for Bills' owners) for poor fans who are hoping for more than faster beer lines this season, although that will certainly be a draw, especially if the team is a loser.
There will be a total of four scoreboards that will be visible from just about everywhere in the stadium, more concession stands, more space between the gates and the stadium, and lots of other things like improved restrooms, a stadium store, and even local staples like a Tim Horton's shop and pizza from La Nova, and how about Duff's wings to add a little spice? You will find them in the new concession area.
It is not likely that the ownership issue will be settled before the season starts, but there appears to be no shortage of bidders who will take a shot at owning the Bills once the heirs of Ralph Wilson put the team up for sale, possibly within several weeks, and all of them who have surfaced have---in one form or another---indicated the team will stay right here, but maybe not in Orchard Park. How about at the old Seneca Mall, as envisioned by mall developer Scott Congel who, as we have reported, has formed a business alliance with Tom Golisano and the two are said to be likely bidders for the team once it is put on the market, although Golisano's recent marriage to tennis star Monica Seles may have changed his priorities.
Fracking kingpin and Sabres owner Terry Pegula is also reportedly muscling up his business empire to take a crack at buying the Bills although his record as owner of the hockey team, probably the worst in the NHL, is not very appealing. And there are others out there who may surface but in the meantime taxpayers are already shouldering a $95 million burden getting the old stadium ready for at least a few more years to keep the gates churning for the current and future owners until at least 2019 when the new owners would be able to break the "Ralph" deal for a paltry $28 million and move the team to a new location.
There may be lots of uncertainty about who will eventually wind up owning the Buffalo NFL franchise, but for die-hard fans, the good news is that out-of-town interests, except for possibly Toronto, have little interest in the Bills. For now, it looks like the team will stay right here for years to come although it may cost taxpayers plenty if that new stadium is indeed necessary.
For a lot of people, the Bills are Buffalo's best hope to attract national attention for something besides snow. Unfortunately, for many years the Bills have contributed to the region's bad image by losing a lot more games than they win, in all kinds of weather. Could this be the year the image changes and the Bills win more than six games?
Time will tell if the losing cycle will be broken this season in the renovated old stadium, but as in past years, the hype will soon begin that this team is ready to turn the corner, unified after a day of playing paint ball, and ready to make a run at the playoffs with or without troubled Marcel Dareus and his string of arrests.
You will read about how it is all coming together and you will hear it on the radio as the Bills' cheerleaders mount their podiums to predict a winning season. Let's hope, for once, they are right, and the Bills are ready to make a playoff run in this, a season of change with the passing of the only owner the team has known. Maybe it will happen. We'll keep you posted.