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NEW Zoo thinks visitors would like to look badgers and prairie dogs right in the eye from the middle of their exhibits.

The Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District thinks so too, and to that end committed $60,000 to a $100,000 project to redesign those exhibits at the Suamico zoo.

"We want to change the look, the feel, the aspect of viewing" of those exhibits, said Neil Anderson, director of the NEW Zoo and Adventure Park. "We know it's important with kids, the concept of play."

The new Prairie Grasslands exhibit would be part of a larger strategic plan, still under development, to make the zoo a more interactive experience. The exhibit would look like the Dakota Badlands and include underground tunnels, tubes and pop-up viewing bubbles. It would be like the walk-through tubes available at some aquariums. It also would have eye-to-eye-view windows outside of the tunnels.

"I don't know of anyone who's done this with badgers," Anderson said.

The interactive exhibits don't appear to bother the animals, he said.

"It becomes an enrichment for the animals. The animals are going to like it as much as the people," Anderson said.

The zoo estimates the new exhibit would draw an additional 7,000 visitors per year and increase zoo operating revenue by $57,500. The direct economic impact would be $389,550 annually.

The money will be available to NEW Zoo after it raises the remaining $40,000 to complete the project.

Anderson said an envisioned strategic master plan would offer opportunities for visitors to interact with exhibits in many more ways than now.

"I think we are going to have something special. It's going to be a major regional draw," he said.

NEW Zoo is owned by Brown County, but is self-supporting.

The stadium board provides grants to economic development projects throughout the county. Money for its special events and economic development fund comes from its share of revenue from events at Lambeau Field, including parking fees.

The board also is the landlord at Lambeau Field for the Green Bay Packers. To that end, a review of the Dec. 13 game against the Dallas Cowboys showed that games generally are well-managed.

Packers Director of Public Affairs Aaron Popkey said the team, which will have metal detectors at all of its gates next year, is considering having separate lines for people who are not carrying anything into the stadium to speed entry.

Contact rryman@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

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