A proposal to pave TRAC’s indoor arena gained no traction with the Franklin County Commission on Wednesday.
Following a spirited debate at its weekly meeting, commissioners informally agreed a concrete floor isn’t the way to boost revenue at TRAC in Pasco.
The concrete floor plan, proposed by the Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities, set off a firestorm in the equestrian community after the Tri-City Herald reported the proposal this week. The proposal included covering the concrete floor with dirt for rodeos, monster truck rallies, dirt bike races and related events.
With the hard floor no longer under consideration, Franklin County will turn its attention to reviewing operations at TRAC, which is more than two decades old. As users question its facilities, the county wants to know if it needs to invest in a portable floor to cover the dirt arena, if it needs to expand the facility and if it’s time to update the aging business plan.
Rick Miller, commission chairman, said he applauds TRAC’s history, but he wants to better study TRAC and its potential to attract more business. Commissioner Brad Peck said he wants a thorough review of TRAC and a well-planned proposal that doesn’t pit users against one another.
Profitability is not the goal, he said.
“The three of us would be ecstatic if TRAC just broke even,” he said.
The three of us would be ecstatic if TRAC just broke even.
Brad Peck, Franklin County commissioner
Franklin County owns and operates TRAC, with financial support from the city of Pasco. The two split the annual operating loss, which came to $480,000 in 2015.
By paving the arena, some saw an opportunity to attract more profitable events and reduce the cost to the public.
Tom French, TRAC’s general manager, said equestrian events accounted for 4 percent of its net revenue in 2014 and 2015, less than $160,000 in total.
Equestrian advocates countered that paving the arena would betray the Franklin County farm community that supported the bond to build TRAC, in part, to showcase agriculture. The center opened in October 1995 and has not turned a direct profit, though it has sparked business for local hotels, restaurants and other vendors.
$78,000 2015*Provided by TRAC
There are no statistics on TRAC’s impact on the local economy, but equestrian activities are important drivers of Washington’s recreation economy. Back Country Horsemen of Washington estimates equestrian activity is worth $5 billion annually and that about 250,000 state residents are actively involved in horses, or 4 percent of the population.
Nationally, horses inspire about $102 billion in direct and indirect spending to the U.S. economy, according to the National Horse Council.
TRAC could attract more horse and bull events with better marketing, said BoBo McMillan, a Walla Walla resident who owns Best of Barrels Only, which produces several barrel-racing events that bring horses, riders and crowds to TRAC.
The arena’s dirt floor is legendary for speed. It is widely regarded as a safe place for animals that can cost as much as a house, she told commissioners. McMillan volunteered to help TRAC raise its profile in the world of horse competitions.
“There is a way to turn that 4 percent into 25 percent, and I would be willing to help do that,” she said.
Conversely, concrete would send her in search of alternative venues for her competitions: “If you guys put concrete on the floor, I will be gone. I’m not gong to worry about someone getting hurt or harming their quarter-of-a-million-dollar horse.”
If you guys put concrete on the floor, I will be gone. I’m not gong to worry about someone getting hurt or harming their quarter-of-a-million-dollar horse.
BoBo McMillan, Best of Barrels Only
Barrel Racers National 4-D is another longtime TRAC user that promised to decamp if the floor were paved.
Owner Mike Gammelgard, based in Oregon City, near Portland, sanctions 700 events a year in the U.S. and Canada. The finals are held at TRAC over the Memorial Day weekend each year.
He called TRAC the “cathedral of rural America” and implored commissioners to preserve what they have rather than sacrifice it for uncertain new events.
“I can’t have my event there if there’s concrete,” he said.
I can’t hold my event there if there’s concrete.
Mike Gammelgard, Barrel Racers National 4-D
The mere suggestion of a concrete floor is affecting his business. Would-be competitors for May’s finals were demanding answers on social media before committing to register.
“The girls are in a panic. Can I tell them there won’t be concrete?” he asked.
Jason Mattox, president of Roseburg, Ore.-based PUSH Enterprises, is organizing a bull-riding competition at TRAC this weekend. Mattox returned to TRAC after a year off inspired by a contract dispute with the center’s prior management.
He called TRAC one of the best arenas in the country, but said he won’t jeopardize his business by putting animals on concrete.
“If a $100,000 bull slips, you go belly up. They’ve got to push off the ground,” he said.
The Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities offered to pay the cost of the floor in exchange for abated rent on future events.
Jeff Losey, executive director, said the temporary floor in use at TRAC is in disrepair and already is causing problems for exhibitors and attendees.
It proposed the concrete solution, but he acknowledged that it would be satisfied with a flat, solid surface, possibly a new, better-quality temporary floor.
“We need a sturdy floor that’s ready for thousands of people to walk on,” he said.