Todd Interests battles for State Park

Development firm preparing for legal fight as the state employs eminent domain

Todd Interests' Shawn Todd with Fairfield Lake State Park
Todd Interests' Shawn Todd with Fairfield Lake State Park (Todd Interests, Google Maps, Getty)

The war over Fairfield Lake State Park is just getting started, as far as Todd Interests is concerned.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commision resolved unanimously Tuesday night to pursue eminent domain, in a move to save the state park, which sits in East Texas, between Waco and Nacogdoches. 

Todd, which closed on its purchase of the 5,000-acre park and 2,400-acre lake on June 1, is ready for a legal fight in a case that has played out in the court of public opinion.

The Dallas-based developer excoriated the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in a letter to its members last week. The firm said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department twice turned down offers to buy the park, which it had been leasing from an energy company for free since the 1970s.

“If the Commission can do this to the Todd family, they can do it to any rancher, farmer, or property owner in Texas,” the firm said of the eminent domain move.

CEO Shawn Todd, whose firm has plans to turn the park into a $1 billion private resort with 400 luxury homes and a golf course, pulled no punches when asked about the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on Thursday.

“This billionaire boys club of board members, who are on that board because they make political contributions, it’s almost as if they now think they’re Russian oligarchs,” Todd told The Real Deal.

The commission does have a billionaire as its chairman, Arch “Beaver” Aplin III, the founder of Buc-ee’s convenience stores.

Aplin has said the move for eminent domain, or condemnation, is a last resort to save the “beloved park.”

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“This commission has zero interest in condemning farms, ranches, working lands,” Aplin said. “We do not take this decision lightly.”

The state has 30 days to send Todd Interests a final offer for the park, based on a land appraisal. 

It was listed for $110 million before Todd bought it, but the developer said the land and water rights of the lake are worth multiple hundred of millions.

Law firm Carrington Coleman is representing Todd Interests and held a news conference in downtown Dallas Thursday. A June 2 new release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is riddled with misleading statements, Carrington Coleman managing partner Monica Latin said.

For example, the state reportedly offered $25 million to buy out Todd’s contract with the property’s previous owner, Vistra Energy. But Latin says Vistra was unwilling to accept that price.

“The message this is sending to corporations and all these people that are coming to Texas … we say ‘we are an open-for-business state,’ but they’ve just shown that’s only true for special situations,” Todd said.

The state might be able to buy the land via eminent domain regardless of Todd Interests’ legal moves, the Dallas Morning News reported. But Todd said he is hopeful that if Texans hear the story behind the deal, they’ll support private property rights and push back against the decision.  

“We’re hopeful that message will make its way across the state and that people will clearly see what’s happening,” Todd said.

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