There’s a fresh wrinkle in the dirt-versus-concrete debate over the best floor surface for the arena at TRAC in Pasco.
Spurred by an unsolicited offer from an unnamed car “company,” the Franklin County Commission revisited the idea of selling naming rights for TRAC when it met Wednesday.
It is intrigued by the concept but won’t accept the proposed offer without making a public request for proposals. The county-owned center has been called “TRAC” since it opened in October 1995. Selling naming rights came up in 2008 but never led to a deal.
This time, naming rights could get caught up in a feisty debate about the arena floor. The county is wrestling with paving it to attract more business versus its commitment to showcase livestock events for the agriculture community. The winning bidder in a naming rights auction could influence the outcome.
Keith Johnson, county administrator, said selling naming rights could be a significant source of revenue for TRAC, which lost $480,000 in 2015. The county splits the cost with the city.
The unsolicited offer is worth $100,000 a year for 10 years, Johnson told the commission.
Pushing TRAC to greater financial self-sufficiency is a top priority for the current board.
Under new management, TRAC has turned a corner. It booked nearly $53,000 in profits in the first quarter and broke even in the second.
Tom French, TRAC general manager, said selling naming rights could stabilize the balance sheet.
“It’s an option I would entertain,” he said.
Selling naming rights is a common source of revenue for high-profile public amenities in the Tri-Cities and elsewhere.
Richland’s new community stage carries the HAPO Community Credit Union name under a 10-year naming rights deal worth $300,000.
Four regional car dealers teamed up for a $1.125 million, five-year naming rights deal with the city of Kennewick for Toyota Center and Toyota Arena. Gesa Credit Union entered a 10-year naming rights deal for the former Dust Devils Stadium in 2008 and secured naming rights for the Carousel of Dream with a $1 million donation to its development.
The commission took no action Wednesday, but indicated it’s intrigued by the idea. If it decides to sell naming rights, it could affect the eventual decision on the arena floor if the winning bidder has a strong preference one way or the other.
The possibility of selling naming rights comes as Franklin County, which owns TRAC, wrestles with upgrading the center’s floors.
TRAC has a 38,184-square-foot Exposition Hall and a 39,200-square foot arena. The former is a solid floor covered with a frayed, stained carpet. The latter is a dirt arena that can be covered with a temporary floor, which has been damaged by years of use.
Dealing with the arena floor could have serious consequences to some of TRAC’s most ardent users..
The Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities is a major user. Its spring and fall home and garden shows are two of the most attended events of the year. Earlier this year, it asked to replace the dirt floor with concrete and offered to help pay for its construction costs.
The plan drew protests from the equestrian and rodeo communities. Layering dirt over concrete would be dangerous for riders, horses, bulls and other users, many said, and threatened to take their events elsewhere.
The HBA in the meantime has yet to confirm its spring gathering, pending a decision about the floor.
“We risk losing them,” Johnson told the board.
A new temporary floor of rigid interlocking panels would cost $190,000, which includes $20,000 for a carpet to overlay the temporary floor during more formal events. The bid, by Great Floors, comes with a five-year warranty.
But there’s more to the debate than replacing one temporary floor with another.
Installation entails leveling and compacting the underlying dirt, and setting the panels in the arena, which costs thousands of dollars each time the floor is changed from hard to soft surface. TRAC has absorbed the cost in the past but is no longer willing to do so as it aims to be more self-sufficient.
Shifting the cost to users could make TRAC unaffordable, pushing users to other arenas.
Commissioner Rick Miller said TRAC could reduce the number of arena floor changes by grouping similar events, creating a season for hard floor events and a season for dirt floor ones.
In related TRAC floor news, Great Floors bid $150,000 to replace the Exhibition Hall carpeting with a vinyl tile, carpet-covered replacement. Johnson said the old carpet is stained and curling up and has become an issue for event planners.