UNO’s Baxter Arena to change landscape in Omaha

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September 24th, 2015

The dedication ceremony for Baxter Arena is set for October 7th and the first hockey game is scheduled for October 23rd.

The dedication ceremony for Baxter Arena is set for October 7th and the first hockey game is scheduled for October 23rd.

The campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha has undergone quite a transition since moving to Division-I in 2011. The latest phase in UNO’s growth into top tiered athletics has been the construction of the new Baxter Arena on UNO’s south campus. This large sports arena will house men’s and women’s basketball, as well as the Maverick men’s hockey team. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott takes a look at UNO’s recent success in the rink, and how the new Baxter Arena could further strengthen the UNO brand, as well as what this means in relation to Omaha’s economy.


 

Omaha, NE – Things have been pretty hectic at Aksarben Village on UNO’s south campus and with the completion of the new Baxter Arena it looks like things will only get busier.

From the outside, the arena looks finished. However, among projects still awaiting completion are the arena’s lighting and electrical wiring. The arena has a capacity of 7,800 fans which is far fewer than the nearly 19,000 seats at the CenturyLink center where UNO played before the arena was finished. Last season UNO reached the Frozen Four Hockey Tournament, college hockey’s equivalent of the Final Four. The Mavericks lost the opening game against Providence College, but just making it that far was a remarkable achievement for a fairly new program.

UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts noted that UNO’s success in Division One hockey has been a source of pride for the entire university. He said the main purpose in building Baxter Arena was to build a permanent home for UNO athletic programs.

“When we were getting ready to play in the Frozen Four, we practiced in four different hockey rinks, four different days of the week prior to the game against Providence,” Alberts said. “Now, that’s not a complaint that’s a fact.”

Alberts said this represented just how tough it was for the hockey team to be successful. UNO hockey head coach Dean Blais agreed and said the team is itching to build off last year’s success.

“Yeah it was a big shot in the arm obviously when you get to the Frozen Force, like the Final Four in basketball, but the timing couldn’t be better with the opening of Baxter Arena.”

According to Coach Blais, before moving to Baxter Arena, UNO players and coaches had to drive from campus to the CenturyLink Center downtown or to the Ralston Arena, then back to UNO to lift weights. Just finding a place to park was a challenge some times. He also said the proximity of the arena to campus will ensure more attendance and a more collegial atmosphere.

“We have the fans here now that we didn’t have at the CenturyLink Center. Anyone can walk up and buy a ticket now those tickets are like gold they will be hard to get.”

There are about 6,300 season tickets at Baxter. All of the season tickets are sold out. For perspective, Alberts said in 2009 there were about 3,000 season tickets sold.

Back at Aksarben Village, the president and CEO of Noddle Companies, Jay Noddle is staring out a large window in his office observing all the development which has taken place on his watch. Noddle owns and manages the commercial property at Aksarben Village. Jay Noddle said the Aksarben complex is continuing to grow at an accelerated pace. Standing with him in his second story office at 67th and Mercy Road in Aksarben, he points to several businesses which are thriving.

The Aksarben Cinema, Noddle said, has the best sales in the city. Spirit World, which moved from eight blocks away, is doing better now than before the move. A Godfathers Pizza and a Thai restaurant are also doing very well Noddle said. Nearly $600 million has been invested into Aksarben Village since 2007. The new Baxter Arena is just the latest addition.

“Number one it moves UNO to a different level with respect to its peers and its aspirational peers around the region, ” Noddle said. “The new arena provides more validation. It’s the next piece and a great public-private partnership and it will bring tremendous numbers of people to the area.”

Noddle said in the first year after Baxter Arena opens, the Aksarben merchants expect to see a significant increase in foot traffic.

“We believe that there are about 300,000 visitors to the special events and the park each year based on what we can tell. Baxter arena could double that number, now in fairness it won’t be all new people, so you could probably argue that Baxter Arena might bring a 150,000 in its first full year of operation to the area that wouldn’t otherwise have been in the area. Those are really big numbers.”

Noddle noted there aren’t many commercial developments in Nebraska that can claim those types of numbers.

“Probably the only other place in the state that enjoys that kind of traffic is Lincoln Memorial Stadium and Pinnacle Bank Arena. So those are really big numbers and it creates a lot of momentum and could create some challenges. Challenges related to just how do you handle the crowds? It’s a little different handling a crowd in the middle of the city than it is on the edge.”

Trev Alberts noted that UNO is still obligated for about half of the $81 million cost of building the new arena. Approximately $39 million has been raised from private donations. The main way UNO expects to pay off the remained is with ticket sales.

“Ticket revenue is critical (going forward). How do we make sure that the one area we’re driving significant revenue – (tickets) that everything comes off of, corporate sponsorship’s come off of that, how many people are interested? Private giving is a result of that. How do we make sure that we capture and maintain that revenue?”

Alberts said all of the benefits associated with building this new arena will surprise people. He said another way to judge how Baxter Arena will affect the UNO hockey program is in recruiting.

“Recruiting was a disaster. The smart schools would say ‘oh really, UNO is a hockey school, huh? They don’t even have a practice home. How can you call yourself a hockey school when you don’t even have a practice home?’ So, all those excuses are over now and now we have the best coach in the country, the best arena in the country, playing in the best conference in the country. Now it’s about consistency.”

The dedication ceremony for Baxter Arena is set for October 7th and the first hockey game is scheduled for October 23rd.


 

Walk up ticket prices:

2014-15 at CenturyLink Center

$25 – Premier (center ice sections, lower bowl)

$21 – All other lower bowl seats

$17 – All upper bowl seats

2015-16 at Baxter Arena

$27 – Lower bowl

$20 – Upper bowl

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