There are a lot of decisions left to be made and conversations to be had before the possible conversion of TRAC to a regional aquatic center, but Franklin County commissioners are unanimous in one thing -- they want to retain a venue for agricultural and equestrian shows.
Commissioner Brad Peck told the Herald on Thursday that his vision is to take any money the county gets for transferring ownership of TRAC to the city of Pasco and buy land north of town along Highway 395 for a new equestrian center.
But conversations about a possible transfer have just begun, said Commissioner Bob Koch, who is representing the commissioners in negotiations with Pasco.
"We're in very early stages," Koch said.
TRAC currently loses about $400,000 a year, and those losses are split between Pasco and Franklin County. But the agreement with Pasco ends in 2014, when the city will have no obligation to share losses.
Peck suggested at a commission meeting in March that it might be better for another agency to take over TRAC and transform it into some kind of family recreation area, which could include an aquatics center.
The Pasco Public Facilities District took that idea to the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District to seek the estimated $35 million it would take to turn the agricultural and trade show arenas into an aquatics center. And the Pasco City Council voted in May to support the concept.
The regional facilities district has yet to choose one of four proposed projects, but discussion Wednesday appeared to favor an aquatics center -- if voters ultimately approve a 0.1 percent sales tax increase.
The district also is considering a$36 million performing arts center, or putting $14.5 million toward construction of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center or$15 million to add an exhibit hall at the Three Rivers Convention Center.
The Franklin County Assessor's Office website values TRAC at $3.6 million, and all three commissioners told the Herald they would want some compensation for transferring ownership to Pasco.
"That's the only way it would happen as far as I'm concerned," Koch said, who added he also wants to ensure that the agricultural and equestrian shows that would be lost are replaced in the county.
Commissioner Rick Miller agreed that the county needs to keep an agricultural and equestrian center for its residents.
"If the (Pasco) PFD can come up with enough money to give us for the buildings and somehow get us some cash flow, we would be willing to go ahead and look at building an equestrian center out north in Pasco," Miller said.
Miller envisions a center with facilities for horse training, horse races and livestock shows and sales.
Peck took that vision a step further and said he could see a time in the future when Franklin County has its own fair -- or becomes the location for an Eastern Washington state fair.
But Miller said he thought the latter prospect was unlikely.
"I think that's unrealistic," Miller said. "The state is going to have to be involved with that. I don't believe the state will provide any more fairs."