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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' next owner could be in line for a new stadium as an additional lure to keep the franchise in western New York.
AECOM, a California-based architectural and design firm, was hired Tuesday to identify three to four sites across the region that could serve as the team's new home. The firm will work with sports business attorney Irwin Raij, who is heading Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to keep the Bills in the region.
The Bills' future is uncertain because they will be put up for sale following Ralph Wilson's death in March. The sale raises concerns the Bills could eventually relocate to a more lucrative market, including nearby Toronto.
"We want to present a long-term solution that will keep the Bills in western New York for decades to come," Raij said. "Someone is going to buy the team, and we want them to have the best information available in order to give them confidence in the region and the widespread support the team has in it."
Aside from evaluating new locations, AECOM also will assess the feasibility of having the Bills continue playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.
AECOM is a Fortune 500 company and has extensive experience in designing sports facilities in North America and across the globe. It designed the Seattle Seahawks home, CenturyLink Field, as well as several World Cup and Olympic facilities, and also oversaw renovations at Green Bay's Lambeau Field.
AECOM officials will begin touring sites on May 12, and have until July 11 to produce a feasibility study, which will eventually be distributed to prospective ownership groups. Sites could potentially include Buffalo as well as Niagara Falls.
The study will include estimates on the facility's revenue-generating potential through seats, suites, sponsorship, parking and concessions.
The firm also will study the potential for developing real estate around the potential stadium sites, and consider the benefits and costs of building a stadium with a retractable roof.
It has not been determined how the cost of a new stadium would be divided.
Ralph Wilson Stadium, which opened in 1973, is currently undergoing $130 million in renovations to upgrade the structure and add new amenities.
Officials, however, believe having the framework of a new stadium plan in place would help represent the region's commitment to keeping the Bills to a new owner and the NFL.
"Governor Cuomo and this administration want to send a very strong message to the new owners and the NFL that we are committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo, and are prepared to do the legwork to make this a reality," said Howard Glaser, the state's director of operations.
AECOM would produce its report ahead of the "New Stadium Working Group," a committee made up of public and private leaders, including Bills executives. The group already has met twice over the past month and is responsible for making recommendations whether a new stadium or renovations to the team's current home best fit the franchise's needs.
The state has stepped up its timetable because of the possibility a new owner could be selected by Wilson's estate by the end of July. A new owner would then require approval from NFL owners, which could take place as early as league meetings in October.
The Bills are essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the 2019 season because of a strict non-relocation clause included in a 10-year lease agreement reached with the state and county in December 2012.
The Bills would incur a $400 million penalty by even broaching the prospect of moving during the lease's term. There is a one-time exception that would allow the Bills to break the lease for just under $28.4 million in 2020.