The Pasco Public Facilities District is championing turning TRAC into a multimillion-dollar aquatics center.
And it now is one of four proposals being considered by the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District.
Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield told the regional facilities district board Wednesday that the Pasco agency wants to "assume the role of primary proponent" for an aquatics center.
Crutchfield, who said he was speaking on behalf of Pasco's facilities district board and not as city manager, said converting the Trade, Recreation and Agricultural Center off Road 68 into a regional aquatics center would provide much-needed indoor and outdoor swim facilities, and help Franklin County resolve what has become a $400,000-a-year operating deficit at TRAC.
A letter submitted to the regional board Wednesday from Bob Tippett, president of the Pasco facilities district board, noted that the original aquatics proposal before the regional board lacked specifics about location and design.
But "re-purposing TRAC away from a convention-exhibition facility" will allow the aquatics center to be evaluated "on equal footing" with the three other proposals being considered as regional projects.
An aquatics facility with an indoor water park of 28,000 square feet, an indoor 25-meter competition pool and an outdoor water park of 90,000 square feet would cost about $35 million, Tippett's letter said.
It is expected that the TRAC aquatics facility would have 370,000 annual admissions and could generate enough income to cover 90 percent of costs.
Crutchfield said if used as an aquatics center, TRAC would stop hosting certain types of events, such as agricultural and equestrian shows, and some of those activities could become opportunities for the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
"The aquatics center would complement (TRAC's) soccer and ball fields," he said, adding that converting the facility into a more financially viable venue would pull operational costs out of the red.
The regional board agreed, in what regional board Chairman Matt Watkins called a silent consensus, to accept the modified proposal for an aquatics center at TRAC as a substitute for the previously submitted aquatics proposal.
But Watkins, mayor of Pasco, said the three other proposals will be allowed to refine and add to their proposals during the next 30 days.
The three other proposals are:
w Adding an exhibit hall to the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
w Contributing toward the construction of a multi-million dollar Reach Interpretive Center in Columbia Park.
w Constructing a performing arts center in Kennewick.
Crutchfield's proposal about converting TRAC to an aquatics center caught some regional facilities district board members by surprise.
"I felt like I was maneuvered and paper-slammed tonight," said Kennewick Councilman Don Britain after the meeting.
"It is disappointing that the past two meetings we've had changes presented," he said.
Last month's regional facilities district board meeting saw a revised proposal come for the Reach Interpretive Center. Regional board member Fred Raab, who is on the Richland Public Facilities District Board, participated in presenting that revised proposal at the regional board meeting March 14.
Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley said Wednesday night was the first she knew about the TRAC proposal.
Kennewick Mayor Steve Young had no comment about the TRAC proposal at the meeting or in response to a Herald request, but was visibly concerned. He called Britain and Mosley aside at the end of the regional meeting to confer privately with them.
"It was a surprise -- kind of like a few steps were leap-frogged tonight," Britain said.
John Givens, who represents the Kennewick Public Facilities District board on the regional board, said converting TRAC into an aquatics center solves two concerns: where to put it and how to purchase the site.
Franklin County would be the owner, he noted.
The regional facilities district board said it expects its consultant, E.D. Hovee, to have his analysis of the four proposed projects completed by the first week in June. The board plans to make a final decision about what project or combination of projects to pursue by late summer or September.
The final selection will be presented to voters in late 2013 for a 0.01 percent sales tax increase in Pasco, Richland and Kennewick to pay for construction of a regional public facility project.