Mixed use proposed for Omaha’s Baxter Arena

Omaha coach Dean Blais guaranteed that DU will not win the Penrose Cup “in our building” next weekend. But, could this weekend be DU’s last visit to play hockey at nearly new Baxter Arena?

When outgoing Omaha Chancellor John Christensen recently announced his retirement, one of the shortfalls cited during his 10-year tenure was said to be Omaha’s Baxter Arena. The arena, built at a cost of $82 million, ran a deficit of about $1.8 million in 2015-2016.

So what to do?

That’s where Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium comes in. The zoo operates 365 days per year and faces a precipitous drop in attendance during the cold winter months due to the outdoor animal exhibits. Discussions between Omaha administrators and the zoo’s Executive Director & CEO, Dennis Pate, are exploring the possibility of moving the zoo to Baxter Arena for the chilly winter months.

A facility rental and a percentage of gate would allow Omaha to bridge the current deficit. This plan would involve converting the main hockey arena/basketball surface  from January to the end of May for animal exhibits such as hyenas, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and water buffalo. Primates would be housed in what is currently the men’s hockey locker room. Some of the the aquarium animals would be temporarily relocated to the arena lobby.

Ultimately, this would mean that all games in the new year for Maverick hockey and basketball would be moved to Ralston Arena, their old facility, and include all their NCHC conference games. It is obviously too late for this season but school officials believe the plan could be implemented as early as the 2017-2018 season.

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Artist rendering of what Zoo animals might look like in a converted Baxter Arena

The new chancellor will make the final decision on the mixed-use plan.