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What questions still surround the new Bills stadium? Q&A with COO Ron Rakoya

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After several months of franchising the state and county believing their agreement would be settled, the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium project was – finally – given the go-ahead to move forward.

The last step in digging for dirt came on Thursdaywhen the Erie County Legislature approved a $1.54 billion proposal to build a new kindergarten for the Bells along with a three-decade lease.

The deal was controversial. The state contributes $600 million. The county gives $250 million. Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would pay the rest, but the public subsidy made many people fret that the stadium would remain in the suburbs and not feature a dome.

Yet calendar pages have passed since those details were settled, and observers have fallen asleep wondering when the agreement will be cemented.

President of Billing Operations and Executive Vice President Ron Rakoya spent time with the athlete To explain the bargaining process and where everything stands with a huge deal going forward.

Erie County’s vote Thursday to approve the new stadium project was a formality, but there is symbolism that construction can begin in earnest. How do you feel about finally getting to this point?

It wasn’t unexpected, but it still felt great. This was a long process, but we did the work. There were a lot of moving parts. It was very complicated. The fact that it’s finally done assuages ​​any worry that things might go wrong.

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Construction is set to begin on the Bills’ new stadium

What are some specific aspects of the stadium that you are most pleased to see?

I can’t wait to be at the sit down bowl. We’ve talked about the stacked layout of our decks, how intimate and intense the action is for our fans. But there are some seat locations that are, in my opinion, the best seats in the NFL to watch a game. If this is important to you, you will love this playground. You are on top of the field. The pitch, the angle, how close the seats are… The upper deck is much closer to the pitch than the current upper deck. The noise from the curtains and the stacked design will be amazing.

The last bit about making this place designed first and foremost for watching football: when you’re at the concourse, there’s nothing stopping you from seeing the pitch. In our current stadium, when you’re in the concourse, you never see the field and you never hear what’s going on because the tunnels are so long. In the new stadium, everything is pushed to the outside wall. So you can wait in line for anything, but you’re still watching the match live, and you’ll feel the noise. Kim and Terry have always said they want this to be the place gamers want to play and every opponent hates to be. We believe design achieves that.

How accurate are the renderings and designs we’ve seen so far?

They really came close to being final. Now, it’s never final because even while building you modify some things. But the vast majority of what we’ve shown so far is what the stadium will look like when it opens.

A photo of the new Bills stadium. (Courtesy of the Buffalo Bills)

Now that the deal has been finalized, what can you reveal that were your main concerns about getting here?

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I think we all wish the buttons had been lifted sooner, but there are many legitimate reasons it took so much time. We’ve all been responsible for this stretcher for longer than we thought. But my biggest worry was the unknown. What is going to happen in our world or in our lives that is likely to derail it. Unfortunately, these are real concerns in today’s world. Could we have been as bogged down in court or bogged down in political discourse as the new peace bridge that was never built? You were confident that all the controls were in line and managed the right way, but time isn’t always your friend, and the fear of the unknown was always present as this went on.

Most fears were ghosts, just anxiety, but that’s the reality of today’s society: you never know. Listen, when we started this process, we had a different ruler. We weren’t dealing with Governor (Kathy) Hochul. (Andrew Cuomo’s resignation) is a tremendous example of the unknown. Look at everything that happened to our community and organization over the past 12 months. We didn’t expect much of what happened.

To what extent did the involvement of the original New York governor in your negotiations affect you?

The turning point was the completion of the deal. There were already established relationships. There was a greater willingness to discuss collaborative solutions. I understood the urgency. I understood the importance of the bills to Western New York. She had the audacity to make it happen, especially when the negotiations were tough. I don’t know how it would have gone with the previous governor, but we clearly didn’t get off to a great start. I don’t know if that was part of his negotiating style and we would have gotten to a good place in the end, but we never got to that point. worth gov. Hochul took a great deal of credit to keep the Bills in Buffalo for the next 30 years. We were lucky.

With no more negotiation, posturing, or statesmanship required to get the stadium deal through, what can you say about how close the Bills have come to truly exploring relocation?

I don’t think it was something we wanted to think about. Our goal was to close the deal, and fortunately we did. There were some darker days than others, but we never deviated from our ultimate goal.

What caused them dark days?

When you’re exchanging suggestions and making no progress after weeks of talking about making progress, those are dark days. When other things get in your way, through no one’s fault, your priorities can shift at a certain point and conversations slow down. Those days make it hard to stay focused and keep everyone pointing in the right direction. This will happen over two years of negotiations.

It is rare for small teams in the market to acquire new stadiums without the threat of a move. Why didn’t you really have to play that card where other clubs should?

I hesitate to talk about the other teams, but I can say that in our case the credit was for all the key people involved, from Kim and Terry to Governor Hochul to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncars. There was such mutual respect on a personal level between everyone. We’ve known each other for a long time, and those relationships lasted all day. We can always count on this foundation. Nobody wants to go down a bad path.

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Despite not being finalized until Thursday, negotiations have been completed for months, yet some fans still seem to think there’s time to spend a few hundred million more and build a retractable dome stadium downtown. How did you handle complaints?

From the beginning we said we were just going to present the facts. When we told the public we needed to replace our existing stadium because it would simply cost too much to keep it going – more than half the cost of a new one – we knew transparency would work. We weren’t going to BS this community. I’m from here. I know this doesn’t work.

I respect the opinions of those who disagree. As long as they listen to our facts, they can come to whatever conclusion they want, without making any offense. The frustrating part was when people don’t look at the facts and make up their own. It was boring listening to people who claim to be experts and knowledgable, but have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about or care to know about the details of what we were trying to do. But it was also a great learning experience.

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Should another relocation cause the Bills to consider building a domed stadium?

We have been very consistent and upfront with our message. I spoke before the Rochester Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago, and the first question or two after I finished was, “Why isn’t there a dome?” I gave him the same answer I gave two years ago. It helped us get past some of the construction opposition at Orchard Park.

There’s a huge difference in your job as Bills’ executive vice president and chief operating officer compared to when you were an agent for famous players Fred Jackson, Brian Moorman, Cowhere and Terrence McGee. How have you dealt with a controversial project where fans don’t feel like they got everything they want despite public money and will have to pay for personal seat licenses for the first time?

It wasn’t that big of a shift. Growing up in this community and being active in this community from a business and sporting standpoint, I had a lot of these professional personal relationships. I do business with people who are friends, family, and fellow Westerners in New York. I also felt that Kim and Terry have done so much for this community and done such a heavy job to get the Bills franchise in the right place – and now the Sabers franchise too – that it was my duty to help them move forward.

This stadium will be an important part of your professional legacy. As an alumnus of Canisius High and Canisius College, as a lifelong Buffalo sports fan, how do you feel?

I refuse to answer this question until it is built.

Yes.

this is the truth.

superstitious?

Some of it, yes, but there is also a lot of work to be done. There is time to think, and time to look back. But I’d rather just focus on getting the work done so we can enjoy this moment once the stadium opens.

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What kinds of remarkable construction will we see next?

If you drive down Abbott Road today, you will see construction work. ECC’s football stadium no longer exists. There are huge mounds of dirt and whatever because there are giant holes. There is a fence. Much equipment and supplies have been delivered to the site. Every day that passes, people will see more and more. Our Head of Construction Project, (VP of Turner Construction and Chief Operations Manager) Joe Byrne says we’ll have big yellow games on the property very soon. This looks great.

When will people driving past be able to tell that a stadium is being built?

This is difficult because it would take a few months to excavate that gigantic hole. Not really until winter you’ll see steel laying down. But this crater will be there in June, and you’ll know something massive is going on there.

How will the build affect the fans’ experience for 2023, be it in shifting, parking or reversing?

Unfortunately, our range of recreational vehicles will not be available until construction is complete. So we’re trying to work on some solutions with our community partners in the neighborhood to move them, but we’re going to lose that. Batch 3 and 4 will adjust slightly. The bus and limousine will travel from the west side of Abbott Road to the east side. But in general, parking shouldn’t suffer much in 2023 other than camp. We will lose sites, but not our fans. We’ll compensate by changing our staff car park so fans don’t have to bother.

What’s the latest on how personal seat authorizations work?

Hopefully in August or early September at the latest, the Sales & Experience Center will open at Tony Walker Plaza (in Williamsville). Every season ticket holder, winger holder, club seat holder or corporate sponsor will come through this center to choose where they want to sit, how they want to experience billing football, everything from where they want to stand, which gate they want to enter, any means comfort they are looking for. It’s an elaborate experience. They will make these decisions through technology, virtual reality, stadium models, and a historical perspective on the journey from War Memorial Stadium to Reach Stadium until today. A pavilion will be designed to sit in. The whole purpose is to explain the experience we’re building to them. Construction is underway. Once unlocked, it will be fast and furious.

Pricing hasn’t been finalized yet, but some of the reported price ranges have been pretty accurate (a survey sent to current Bills season ticket holders noted $500 for reserve seats and up to $16,500 for premium seats). But it is not final yet. I hope this will be very close to the final by the time we open the sales center.

Now how about revamping the KeyBank Center for Sabers fans?

(Laughs) I’ve had enough of worrying about him in one court.

(Top photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

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