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TRAC floor deal will send animals outside

The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, prepare for Home and Garden show on Wednesday at the TRAC center in Pasco. The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities and Franklin County, which owns TRAC, are finalizing a deal to pave the dirt floor of the venue’s rodeo arena.
The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, prepare for Home and Garden show on Wednesday at the TRAC center in Pasco. The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities and Franklin County, which owns TRAC, are finalizing a deal to pave the dirt floor of the venue’s rodeo arena. Tri-City Herald

About 10,000 people will converge on the TRAC event center this weekend to browse the offerings of hundreds of home improvement vendors.

Many may not notice what’s underfoot — a dirt arena covered by a temporary floor.

But this could be the last year the annual Regional Home & Garden Show is held where barrel racing and bull riding also are staged.

The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities is close to signing a deal with Franklin County to pay $204,000 to permanently pave the floor.

The pending deal will settle a two-year battle that pitted the needs of livestock events against those of humans-centered ones.

TRAC consists of a convention hall and an arena, linked in the middle by an atrium. The arena’s dirt floor and is preferred by barrel racers, bull riders and other livestock competitors but not by home shows, dances and conventions.

Franklin County commissioners could sign a deal as early as Tuesday . If approved, the arena will be paved in May by an HBA contractor during an anticipated lull in business.

In a nod to Franklin County’s agricultural community, commissioners say they’re prepared to upgrade TRAC’s outdoor arena to host livestock events, calling it a viable option.

There are no confirmed plans, but commissioners indicated a willingness to invest in expanding the outdoor arena, building a shelter and installing lighting.

The TRAC arena’s dirt floor has been a flashpoint for more than two years.

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TRAC consists of a convention hall and an arena, linked in the middle by an atrium. The arena’s dirt floor and is preferred by barrel racers, bull riders and other livestock competitors but not by home shows, dances and conventions. File Tri-City Herald

HBA, one of TRAC’s most important rent-paying tenants, complained the temporary flooring laid over the dirt isn’t stable enough for public events.

The agricultural community pushed back, with event organizers saying their participants wouldn’t risk injury to riders or valuable livestock if the arena were paved.

The county attempted a compromise in early 2017 when it spent $170,000 in rural economic development funds to replace the old flooring system with new one of rigid interlocking panels. Officials hoped a new, sturdier floor would answer the complaints.

But the county’s push to put TRAC on a more stable financial footing is behind the change.

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Franklin County will consider upgrading the outdoor arena at TRAC if it paves the indoor rodeo arena. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Franklin County and the city of Pasco jointly subsidize the venue’s operating losses. The arrangement cost each more than $400,000 as recently as 2015.

New management and marketing reversed the losses. By 2016, TRAC was returning a modest profit to the city and county.

The reorganization brought the types of events held at TRAC into sharp focus.

“Dirt” events such as barrel racing and bull riding competitions generated less than 4 percent of its net revenue in recent years.

A California concert promoter holds Latino dances at TRAC, representing 19 percent of its revenue. The tenant warned it would leave over the floor issues. And the HBA is a major tenant as well, paying nearly $80,000 annually to lease the venue for its shows.

Visit Tri-Cities has identified dozens of events TRAC could bid on if it had a concrete floor, collectively worth $4 million in potential business to area hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

The compromise floor wasn’t a hit when HBA held its home show in 2017.

Under terms of the deal, the HBA will front the $204,258 to pave the indoor arena in exchange for steep discounts on the $44,000 it pays to rent TRAC for the February show. The deal sunsets after 10 years, when the debt is retired.

HBA president Jeff Losey said TRAC is a great venue but the panels laid over dirt are wobbly, dirty and pose a safety threat. Wear patterns form in the dirt, leading to dips in the flooring, raising the risk of falls.

“Knock on wood, we haven’t had any of those incidences. But at the end of the day, safety is number one,” Losey said.

Under terms of the deal, the HBA will front the $204,258 to pave the indoor arena in exchange for steep discounts on the $44,000 it pays to rent TRAC for the February show.

The deal sunsets after 10 years, when the $204,000 debt is retired.

Commissioners didn’t quibble with the broad terms of cementing the arena. Instead, the county is negotiating contract language. For example, the HBA proposal sets the rent for the spring Home and Garden show at $44,000 in perpetuity. Commissioners want some sort of inflation adjustment.

And the HBA asked for free coffee service during the Home and Garden Show, an expense that can quickly add up to $1,500 or more per day.

Losey anticipates a strong show this year. The mild winter has put people in a mind about home improvement and cool temperatures are keeping them indoors.

Too, he said home builders and other vendors are optimistic that consumers are feeling flush.

“They all have more money in their pocket because of the new tax plan,” Losey said.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

The Regional Home & Garden Show is Feb. 23 to 25 at TRAC, 6600 Burden Blvd., Pasco. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults with children 12 and under admitted free. Bring a nonperishable food item for a $1 discount. Visit bit.ly/HBAHomeandGarden for event details.

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