While state officials are planning to vote Saturday on whether to attempt to use eminent domain to claim Fairfield Lake State Park, the Dallas-based developer who now owns the land wants Texans to know that the state had its chance to buy the park multiple times and failed to do so.
The park closed to the public earlier this week after Todd Interests closed its contract with Vistra, which had leased the land to the state at no cost for about 50 years. Vistra first alerted park officials it would be terminating its lease in 2018 and gave Texas the opportunity to purchase the property before eventually listing it for $110 million in 2021.
While most of the nitty-gritty details of the saga surrounding the state’s loss of the park have remained between businessmen behind closed doors, evidence of the drama and last-ditch efforts have slowly trickled into public eye, including a letter from the Attorney General’s Office to Todd Interests, a $95 million offer from the state to Vistra in June and a letter penned by Todd Interests’ three partners calling the state’s efforts to buy the land “sabotage.”
Following the publication of the letters, Todd Interests founder and CEO Shawn Todd described to The Dallas Morning News a pattern of what he called intimidation from multiple state entities and lawmakers in a months-long effort to prevent his family’s firm from acquiring the 5,000-acre property about 80 miles southeast of Dallas. His firm plans to build a luxury gated community on the land, including multimillion-homes, a golf course and a country club.
A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesperson told The News it would not be providing interviews ahead of Saturday’s meeting.
Todd said his firm’s interactions with Arch “Beaver” Aplin III, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, began in September after Todd Interests had the land under contract with Vistra.
He said Aplin told him he didn’t want to interfere with a business transaction but asked if the park could remain open within the development because it would be “incredibly embarrassing” for the state to lose a park during the department’s 100th anniversary. Todd declined.
Late last year, Todd said, he and Vistra CEO Jim Burke had a closed-door meeting at the Capitol in Austin with several state legislators and TPWD leaders who “expressed their strong sentiments against Vistra selling their property to our firm.”
A Vistra spokesperson confirmed Burke was at the meeting. The conversation ended with Todd Interests and Vistra agreeing to extend their contract 30 days to let the state bring an offer to them, which it did.
Todd said he and Vistra declined the offer in February but that his firm “gave them multiple opportunities to buy the park” afterward.
Text messages between Todd, Aplin, and Burke detail some of these opportunities, including Todd offering to complete his firm’s purchase of the land then selling the majority of the existing park to the state for $60 million, The News’ editorial board reported. Aplin declined, saying the state wanted to buy the entire 5,000 acres.
In a June 2 news release, TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz said the department wanted “to conduct realistic negotiations with realistic conditions. Unfortunately, Todd Interests would not work with us, and now we need to pursue other options.”
Todd called this a lie.
“The narratives being told by Chairman Aplin that the state had the money [to buy the park] and the Todds wouldn’t let the state buy it was nothing further from the truth,” he said, adding that the state “always wanted something on the cheap.”
Vistra confirmed to The News on Thursday that it had not received a formal offer on the property from the state before a June 1 letter offering $95 million. A spokesperson said in an email the company was bound by its contract with Todd Interests and could not legally negotiate with the state.
See here and here for the relevant bits. I said the state screwed the pooch on this one in my last post, and I don’t see any reason to revise that at this time. Maybe the state will move forward with eminent domain here, which should eventually get them the land back, likely at a higher price than they would have needed to pay originally. It won’t be pretty and who knows how long it might take if it ends up in court, but in the end the state ought to prevail. Whether they will have learned anything from the experience, which was the consolation prize I was hoping for at the beginning when it looked like there was no way forward, that remains to be seen.