ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Serendipity.
That’s the word Scott Radecic uses to describe his next big assignment: designing the Buffalo Bills new stadium.
“I know we made a point in the interview process saying that there was no other architect that they were interviewing that actually played in the stadium,” Radecic recalled.
In the late 80s, the former NFL linebacker spent three seasons playing for the Bills. But nobody plays football forever. Now, after a 12 year pro career, Radecic’s day job is as senior principal for design firm Populous. And his firm won the job of designing the new Orchard Park stadium.
“No, it’s not like any other project,” Radecic conceded. “It’s very different.”
“This one is special,” agreed Jonathan Mallie, another senior principal at Populous. “There’s an energy about this fanbase, what the team means to the city and the community.”
Together, Radecic and Mallie are leading the team which will design what Governor Kathy Hochul says will eventually become the largest construction project in Western New York history. Pending Erie County Legislature approval, the state, county, and Bills agreed in March to move forward with the $1.4 billion project. The stadium is expected to open in 2026.
At the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. earlier this year, Bills Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia told News 4 the new stadium would be nothing like the current Highmark Stadium.
“I think what people aren’t thinking about is what a dramatic difference it’s going to be for their experience at the stadium,” Raccuia said.
Intimate is a term often used to describe the stadium, which is expected to have between 60,000 and 62,000 fixed seats with another 2,000-5,000 flex seats. It has also been said by many that it will be “Built for Buffalo”.
Mallie, who said it will be a “football-first” facility, explained what that means to him: “We create the environment that the team can excel in and we think about the intimacy and the intimidation of the seating bowl and the way that can propel the team. And then in terms of the fan experience, how we allow the Bills brand to resonate through the building.”
“The closeness and the proximity that fans have today to the field is something we really want to watch and maintain too,” said Radecic. “We want to make sure we have those field and wall interactions that occur.”
Populous and the Bills have a history. The firm worked on the team’s 2013 $130 million renovation project at Highmark Stadium. The new stadium will be going across Abbott Road from it. Groundbreaking is expected to take place during the 2023 offseason.
“Now we’re moving into conceptual design,” said Mallie. “And from now moving forward over the next year, we’ll be progressing the design through the various stages. At every stage, there is the next level of detail that is added to the planning.”
They’ll have more physical space to work with. Highmark Stadium has about 900,000 square feet. The new stadium is expected to have about 1.35 million square feet.
“There will be more amenities,” said Radecic. “There will be more destinations. There will be more restroom fixtures and concession points of sale.”
Mallie says they’ll make it as compact and efficient as possible.
“What that means is it’s going to actually bring the seating bowl in and closer to the field and that is where you get that sense of intimacy and intimidation and the loud factor,” he said.
The way some fans will watch the game is also likely to change.
“We want to have destinations where people can gather socially when they don’t want to sit in their seat,” Radecic said. “Obviously everybody loves when everybody sits in their seat all game. We know there are hardcore fans that will not leave their seat. Then, there are others that are a little more social.”
Populous is also working on ways to keep fans try and warm. Public documents related to the stadium say, “Canopy considerations are part of the design intent for some or all sections of the seating bowl. Significant temperature controlled and heated areas will be distributed throughout the new stadium to serve as warming areas for patrons and improve the fan experience throughout the new stadium, including within the seating bowl.”
The documents also say the stadium will have finishes, amenities, and concourses comparable to other recently built NFL stadiums, specifying those in Las Vegas and Minneapolis.
“Some of it is as simple as vertical circulation, ways people can get up elevators or escalators,” Radecic said. “Various things that don’t exist in Highmark Stadium today. Some of them are going to be different areas of hospitality.”
The architects say they understand the significance that their work has on a community and that the opportunity to design the next great destination in Western New York is humbling.
Radecic even invoked a line from his former coach.
“To be able to think about how we can create a building that enhances fandom for the Buffalo Bills and makes it a place that when players run onto the field or they’re in a game that they feel there’s no other place I’d rather be than right here right now,” Radecic said drawing on Marv Levy’s famous line. “I think that’s important.
“So we don’t take any of that for granted.”
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Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.