Brad Peck thinks TRAC's greatest potential could be as a regional family recreation center.
The Franklin County Commission chairman said Wednesday that the county should look at what the best option would be for the future of TRAC.
TRAC is losing money, with Franklin County and Pasco filling the gap each year. But that partnership only lasts until 2014 when the city no longer has an obligation to equally share TRAC's losses with the county.
Troy Woody, TRAC general manager, told commissioners Wednesday that TRAC brought in $2.3 million last year, with a loss of about $397,000.
That is the best revenue TRAC has seen since it opened in 1995 and it is the lowest percentage of loss since 2005, he said.
Peck said he isn't sure continued county ownership would be the best option for TRAC. He would like to see an organization like the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District transform the event center into a family recreation area, which could include an aquatics center.
TRAC includes an exposition hall, an indoor arena, an ice rink open seasonally and conference rooms. There also are soccer fields and the city's softball complex. The city's lease with the county for the softball complex land ends in 2020.
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins, who is president of the Regional Public Facilities District, told the Herald later that the district hasn't talked about the TRAC.
But it's a concept Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield intends to discuss with city council members at their retreat March 30-31.
"I think it's a very viable option," Crutchfield told the Herald Wednesday.
But a lot more work needs to be done to determine if the idea would work, he said.
The Pasco Public Facilities District recently hired a consultant to look at adding an aquatics center at TRAC, Crutchfield said. It's possible the city's public facilities district could operate TRAC as a family recreation center instead of the regional group, he said.
Changing TRAC's focus could mean that meetings, trade shows and exhibitions no longer would be able to use TRAC, Crutchfield said. But the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick could pick up some of that business.
However, the Kennewick City Council was told recently that the Three Rivers Convention Center already has trouble accommodating large conventions and events. The Kennewick Public Facilities District is considering expanding the convention center and adding a hotel.
In Pasco, other options for TRAC include selling the facility or picking and choosing events so that the ones held are those that operate at a profit, Peck said. TRAC is valued at about $3.6 million, according to the Franklin County assessor's website.
Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, said she hopes whatever changes are made, TRAC continues to offer the recreational opportunities, meetings and events it does now.
It is unique in Franklin County, and has acted as a catalyst for economic development within a mile of its location at 6600 Burden Boulevard in Pasco, she said.
Before TRAC was built, the area nearby mostly was agricultural fields. Shortly after construction began, other businesses began opening up in the Road 68 area, Watkins said.
"TRAC has definitely proven itself in terms of the kind of business they've been able to bring to Franklin County," she said.
The sports, agricultural and other events bring in local people, as well as others from the region, she said. And the travelers spend at restaurants, hotels and other retailers, which means more jobs and sales tax revenue.
Woody said it is difficult to measure the benefits TRAC has for the general community. If state tourism estimates are accurate, the amount the county and city spend to operate TRAC easily is made up by what visitors spend in the area, Woody said.
Woody had asked commissioners Wednesday to spend up to $15,000 to analyze how the county could accept a sponsorship or money for naming rights for TRAC within limits because the facility is funded using bonds.
But commissioners did not approve the request.
Peck said Woody has been doing what he can to operate TRAC well. Other publicly owned event centers operate at a loss too.
"I'm just not sure the model pays, and then the question becomes if we can afford it and for how long," Peck said.
More discussion about TRAC's future is needed, Peck said. And the options would need to be presented to the public to see if county residents want to continue to foot the bill for TRAC.
County Commissioner Rick Miller did not comment Wednesday about the idea of transforming TRAC into a family center. Commissioner Bob Koch was in Washington, D.C., lobbying for Ben Franklin Transit.