A measure that could lead to “historic improvements” at Lake Texoma Resort Park has cleared the Legislature and is on its way to the governor.
The measure would allow the Commissioners of the Land Office – also known as the School Land Commission – to invest in real property held by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
In essence, the proposed law would allow the School Land Commission to buy the lodge, park and Chickasaw Pointe Golf Course from the Tourism Department. The state of Oklahoma owns about 300 acres on the western shore of Lake Texoma in Marshall County.
The School Land Commission could also seek title to more than 1,000 acres at the park held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers where some state facilities are located. Once the School Land Commission has all the land, it could develop the area to its “highest and best use” or contract with private resort development companies to do so.
Senator Jay Paul Gumm, who represents the entire Lake Texoma area, sponsored the bill in the Senate. He said the measure – while not forcing the sale – “puts another option on the table” to secure the future of the resort and the jobs that depend on it.
The lawmaker noted that an existing state law – passed in 2002 before he was elected – already provides for the sale of the lodge and park to a private developer. According to Tourism Department officials, giving the School Land Commission the ability to participate could help encourage development.
“Lake Texoma is a jewel,” said Gumm, a Democrat from Durant. “We have outstanding employees at the lodge and park who have done extraordinary work to make the visitor experience there among the best anywhere.
“They deserve to work at a lodge that is as good as they are and our visitors deserve the best vacation experience we can give them.”
Rep. John Carey, the House author of the bill, said the problem at Texoma is that the state simply does not have the resources to make the improvements the lodge needs. That is where the School Land Commission can help make a difference, he said.
“They have resources that could create options for the resort,” said Carey, also a Democrat from Durant.
Gumm and Carey noted that because the School Land Commission is a state agency created by the Oklahoma Constitution, it is allowed by federal law to seek title to land currently held by the Corps of Engineers.
The School Land Commission has charge of school lands and a $1.2 billion trust fund. Returns on investments from those lands and the trust go to schools and colleges in Oklahoma. Last year, commission investments provided more than $47 million to public schools across the state.
If the governor signs the bill, the School Land Commission could invest as much as 3 percent of its trust – more than $30 million – in real property currently held by the Tourism Department. Any such deals would require approval by both the School Land Commission and the Tourism Commission before any sale or transfer happens.
“That is the kind of infusion of dollars that could make a big difference at Texoma,” Gumm said. “In addition to giving our visitors a first rate vacation destination, the development of a premier resort facility would create new jobs and new business opportunities for our communities around Lake Texoma.”
In addition to stimulating the area economy, the lawmakers developed the bill to ensure the fair treatment of the employees at Lake Texoma State Resort Park and the private concessionaires who have invested millions in their businesses around the park.
Gumm said language protecting the employees had to be in the bill. If protecting the employees had not been part of the bill, it would have been a “deal-breaker” for the senator.
According to the legislation, resort employees with at least two years service “shall have the opportunity to obtain employment with any successor” resort or park. Gumm also added a provision that required the Tourism Department to develop a severance package for all employees affected if the facility is shut down during construction of a new lodge.
Robb Gray, chief of staff for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, praised the lawmakers’ work on the bill.
“Representative Carey and Senator Gumm worked many hours to put another option on the table for the Tourism Department and Texoma,” Gray said. “Their efforts will secure the future of the local economy by helping develop new tourism and economic development opportunities at Lake Texoma.”
Gray also noted the lawmakers went to great lengths to protect the resort’s employees.
“Senator Gumm was adamant that our employees at Lake Texoma get the protection they deserved,” he said. “He made certain that the bill safeguarded the future and interests of these dedicated staff members.”