Franklin County is considering a controversial move to boost revenue at TRAC in Pasco — paving the indoor dirt arena.
The 39,200-square-foot dirt arena might get a concrete floor to better attract car shows, heavy equipment displays and similar events that need a hard surface.
TRAC would still welcome livestock and equestrian events, rodeos, truck rallies and other programs that require a soft surface. It would spread dirt over the concrete floor, officials said.
The Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities proposed the $150,000 conversion to Franklin County commissioners, saying its popular home and garden show needs a solid floor. Franklin County owns and operates TRAC, with financial support from the city of Pasco.
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Commissioners have the final say on TRAC-related matters, and are expected to discuss it when they meets at 9 a.m. March 16 at the county courthouse.
Most of our events today do not require a dirt floor.
Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson
Tom French, TRAC’s general manager, and Keith Thompson, Franklin County administrator, each characterize the move as conceptual. But there already are tentative plans to pour the floor in mid-April if commissioners sign off.
Thompson said the county is sensitive to TRAC’s history and mission to showcase the region’s agricultural community. But a concrete floor on both sides of the event center would open up new opportunities to hold events and attract rent-paying businesses.
“Most of our events today do not require a dirt floor,” he said. What’s more, hard-floor events earn more money.
Profitability is increasingly important to Franklin County, which wants to see TRAC earn enough revenue to cover its costs.
The center has not turned a profit since it opened in October 1995. Franklin County and the city of Pasco split the annual deficit, which came to about $480,000 last year.
TRAC is off to a strong start so far in 2016. It turned a $42,371 profit in January and a $22,392 profit in February. Franklin County Commission Chairman Rick Miller called it cause for optimism, though he’s undecided about the concrete floor plan.
Commissioner Brad Peck said he is inclined to support the proposal if it improves TRAC’s bottom line and helps eliminate the taxpayer subsidy. He noted that the National Finals Rodeo is held on a hard floor covered with dirt in Las Vegas.
“If it’s good enough for the National Finals Rodeo, it’s probably good enough for TRAC,” he said.
If it’s good enough for the National Finals Rodeo, it’s probably good enough for TRAC.
Brad Peck, Franklin County Commissioner
Commissioner Bob Koch said he’s still weighing the arguments and has not made up his mind.
Profitability could be in the eye of the beholder.
TRAC’s mission is to showcase the agriculture community, but as a publicly owned venue, it is expected to spark business for hotels and restaurants. Profitability, until now, has been considered secondary.
Equestrians say their events do just that — attracting out-of-town visitors who sleep in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.
The economic impact is unclear. There is no current economic impact study on TRAC, though one could be forthcoming, said Johnson, the county administrator.
One thing is clear, there is little room for compromise.
Organizations that need hard floors say they’ll move if they don’t get their way. Equestrian groups say they’ll move if the dirt floor is paved over. Representatives of Ranch & Home, which sponsors the arena, were not available to comment on the controversy.
The Regional Home and Garden Show takes over the entire TRAC facility each February. The 2016 event brought in 233 vendors and more than 10,000 attendees during a three-day period. The home builders association, which organizes the show, said the portable floor is in disrepair and creates problems.
“Something had to give. We need a hard surface,” said Jeff Losey, the association’s executive director.
Something had to give. We need a hard surface.
Jeff Losey, Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities
The equestrian community says dirt compacted against concrete undermines an animal’s footing and could lead to leg injuries and thrown riders.
BoBo McMillan, who owns Best of Barrels Only, which produces the Sand Cup racing in April and the Producers Gone Wild event over Labor Day weekend, said it would take a minimum of 18 inches of dirt, leveled and contained.
Even so, she said 1,700 racers run the course in a short time span, and would likely cause a path to form.
“We will have to move. There’s no way to make that work,” she said. McMillan said it’s not just a safety issue. TRAC’s ground is legendary.
“It is hard to find facilities where you can make it so safe and so fast,” she said.
It is hard to find facilities where you can make it so safe and so fast.
BoBo McMillan, organizes barrel racing events
The American Cowboy Team Roping Association, which holds its finals annually at TRAC, also will pull out, said Grant Shumway, vice president. In September, 2,000 two-person roping teams competed in the TRAC arena.
“This will most definitely force us to move our event,” Shumway said.
He added that he’s horrified TRAC is considering abandoning the dirt floor arena. His mother was part of the team that promoted TRAC to showcase livestock and equine events.
“TRAC was built on farmers dollars. I’m just really disappointed,” he said.
The TRAC Center offers 84,000 square feet of exhibit space in a 38,184-square-foot exposition hall with a solid floor and 39,200-square-foot dirt arena, atrium and three conference rooms. It is owned and operated by Franklin County with financial support from the city of Pasco.