It appears the dirt arena at TRAC is likely doomed.
The idea to pave the arena has been batted around for years, and likely would have happened last year if it hadn’t been for some pushback from those involved with equestrian events.
The powerful Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities had proposed paving the arena to make for a better walking surface during its annual shows.
But several area residents harkened back to the intent of the Trade Recreation Agricultural Center in Pasco, which was built with voter-approval more than 20 years ago to serve all the purposes in its name.
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TRAC has struggled for years to make a profit, as most public facilities do. By design, public facilities are meant to serve the public for a variety of uses, and aren’t necessarily intended to be profit centers. They serve a purpose in a community. The hope is that the economic impact will be appreciated by the surrounding community, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.
For years TRAC’s fate has been uncertain, with ideas floated to replace it with a water park to a Western-themed mixed-use development. The indoor arena and its design have been at the center of the debate.
Current uses include motorsports, barrel races and team roping events, as well as conventions and trade shows that use the arena floor for displays and vendor booths. During the latter events, a temporary floor is placed over the dirt.
The county invested $170,000 in a new floor to try to appease both dirt lovers and those who would prefer a hard surface for their events.
The groups providing much of the revenue to TRAC — like the Home Builders and a Hispanic dance promoter whose events provide nearly 20 percent of the facility’s annual income — don’t like the new floor. So the idea to pave the arena has resurfaced.
TRAC already had made it difficult for promoters of Western events to use the facility, with high rents and other requirements that made it challenging for those events to be profitable. Some already have abandoned the facility, and others have given up trying to book events there.
But if the indoor arena is paved, the community will lose its only alternative for an indoor facility of its type. It’s cost prohibitive for most Western events to pay for a facility to move dirt in and out for events. It’s a lot more work to move dirt than to lay down a floor over the top of dirt.
And TRAC management is surprised at how much debris is left in the dirt after motorsports such as demolition derbies. Other facilities with hard surface floors that move dirt in for events often have two different dirt supplies, one for horse events and one for motorsports.
One potential consolation prize being suggested is to cover the outdoor practice arena. A big difference exists between an indoor arena with heating and cooling, built-in seating and bathrooms and a covered arena that could more likely resemble a hay storage shed than an indoor riding facility.
TRAC officials say dirt events like rodeos and barrel racing don’t make them enough money to preserve the facility. Visit Tri-Cities is eager to offer up events that would potentially use the facility if it had a paved floor — once again ignoring the importance and economic impact of Western events.
It’s true that things change and maybe our community just doesn’t have the support for an indoor arena any longer. But we will sure be sad to see events leave our area if the change to the flooring is made and an alternative venue can’t be offered.
These are the folks who helped get TRAC built in the first place and they soon may be without a home for their events.