Pasco's TRAC event center could face record loss

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Pasco's TRAC event center could be headed for a record loss of almost a half-million dollars in 2014.

The facility off Road 68 is projected to lose $477,000, General Manager Troy Woody told the advisory board Tuesday evening. It had been budgeted to lose $300,000.

"Which is a big hit -- the worst loss I think in recorded history," he said.

Woody attributed part of the hit to bad press, from talk of turning TRAC into an aquatic center to a state audit report that faulted the facility for its management of cash machines.

Out-of-town business has remained "virtually unchanged," while local events substantially have dropped off, he said.

"For three years, we've been under one issue or another," Woody said. "If you're booking your wedding a year out, you'd be hesitant to select us."

The losses are common for places like the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick and facilities in Yakima and Wenatchee, Woody said, but "are uncommon for us."

Improving the outlook won't be easy because of increased competition, Woody said. Meeting facilities are available at the new Reach center in Richland and the Carousel of Dreams in Kennewick. The Kennewick convention center is also expanding and an event center is planned at the Broadmoor Outlet Mall in Pasco.

TRAC had budgeted $2.3 million in revenue this year, but only plans to bring in $1.9 million, Woody said. It is only forecast to spend $2.4 million after budgeting $2.6 million.

Woody encouraged board members to appear at county commission meetings to advocate for the facility, and to speak to community groups.

"I can go out there all day long, but I have a 'vested interest' in it," he said, forming quote marks with his fingers.

Emphasizing the visitors who spend money in the area for TRAC events will be important, said Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins, whose city covers half of TRAC's losses with Franklin County paying the other half.

That can be $95 per person per day for each of an estimated 100,000 people who come from out of town for TRAC events annually, Woody said.

Board members encouraged Woody to emphasize the figure of $8.58 a year that each Franklin County resident pays for all of TRAC's costs, including its subsidy and paying off its debt. Some wanted to see major upgrades to the building, which Woody said hasn't seen a large expansion in at least 15 years.

"For the people who are paying the $8 and some cents a head, that's a heck of a value to have these kinds of events right here in your own backyard," said board member Carl Leth.

The county is planning to take over operations of TRAC's recreational vehicle park, Woody said.

Some board members were concerned that TRAC could be headed toward having a private management company take over, such as the situation in Kennewick, where Iowa-based VenuWorks operates the convention center, Toyota Center and Toyota Arena.

"They have a very, very renowned management company, same loss," Woody said. "You save $400,000 in efficiencies, and then write a check for $400,000 for the management fee."

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