Grayson County agrees to Loy Park transfer

By Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Event patrons sit near the bust statue at Loy Park in Denison for a recent Dwight D. Eisenhower birthday celebration.

With only one vote against the idea, Grayson County commissioners Tuesday approved the transfer of Loy Park to the city of Denison.

Commissioner Phyllis James voted against the transfer that was touted as a "win-win" for everyone by one commissioner.

"My dad once told me that God's not making anymore land," James said. "To give up prime real estate on Highway 75, that is an asset of Grayson County, is something that I could just never agree to," she added.

Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said the transfer will allow the county to save money and allow for better use of the park.

He said the county only spends about $80,000 a year on the park but that is not nearly enough to do what needs to be done out there just to make the improvements that need to be made without considering the great things that could be done.

The Denison city council approved the transfer Monday night. 

Denison Mayor Janet Gott speaks to Grayson County commissioners Tuesday about the transfer of Loy Park to Denison.

Denison Mayor Janet Gott said she was talking from the prospective of the mayor of Denison but she is excited about the possibilities for the future of the park. 

"In 2017, we spent almost a year creating a comprehensive plan for our community," she said. She added that some of the major things that people said they wanted were multi-use trails, parks and green spaces.

"I share that with you," she told commissioners, "because we have a demographic now that is becoming larger and larger that want to practice healthy lifestyles for themselves and their families outdoors."

She said she is a fan and great supporter of parks including the 23 parks within the city of Denison. 

The city of Denison, she said, is about to embark upon a master park plan so that makes this the perfect time to bring Loy Lake Park into the Denison fold.

She recalled that the in the past one would drive a fair distance, from either Denison or Sherman, to get to Loy Park. Now, the communities have grown to the point that that is no longer true.

"Loy Lake Park is in the center of our community and it sets directly in our path for our growth. We are going to grow organically moving west from Highway 75 and quite frankly, we couldn't stop it if we wanted to. As it sits right now, Loy Lake has very little opportunity improvement but so much potential to become a point of pride in our region," she said.

Most people, she said, would ask how Denison could afford to make improvements to the park.

"Well, it's all about that growth that we are talking about," she answered.

Denison City Manager Jud Rex said the plan isn't to restrict the use of the park to the people of Denison, but to open it up to greater use by people all over the region.

"It was 87 years ago last month that 200 men from Wisconsin showed up as part of the Civilian Conservation Corp to build Loy Lake Park and six months later, it only took them six months to do that work," he said noting that some of the work was also done by Grayson County people.

"So this park just has so much history and heritage to it that we want to definitely want to preserve," he said. He said one of the things that really needs to change at the park is the entrance which right now is off Loy Lake Road. It really, he said, needs to be off the access road that runs alongside the park and Highway 75. So that will be a major change that is coming to the park. In the next five years, the city will tackle projects that have long been on the county's to do list including fixing the spillway, dredging the lake and improving the dam. The city plans to look for grants to help offset the expenses for those projects. 

To get the ball rolling, the city of Denison has set aside $100,000 to go toward park planning and is planning on putting together a nine-member Loy Lake Park Advisory committee that will be made up of five people selected by the city of Denison and one each selected by the Texoma Exposition & Livestock Show and Frontier Village. The committee will also include two Grayson County commissioners. 

The Mayor arena at Loy Lake Park fills up as the goat showing gets underway in 2017. The city of Denison is considering an agreement that would transfer Loy Lake Park from Grayson County to the city.

To pay for the improvements to the park, both the city and the county will be participating in a tax reinvestment zone called TIRZ 4 that will see the county put 75 percent of the property taxes for the designated area and the city put 25 percent of its taxes from that area toward the plans for the park. Rex said to get those projects underway even faster, the city will probably issue bonds against the proceeds from the TIRZ in the coming years. In 2024 they expect to issue about $3 million in bonds to tackle the dam and spillway improvements and start the road improvements. Then, a few years later, he said, they will issue another $6 million in bonds to continue improvements at the park.

Under the agreement, The leases for both Frontier VIllage and Texoma Exposition & Livestock Show will be extended another 50 years. Going forward, under the plan announced this week, whenever one of those organizations' lease is extended the other will be as well.

Additionally, the inter-local agreement that allowed for the transfer said, the city of Denison will allow those two entities to use their existing property on the park for anything that is legal and does not violate any city of Denison ordinance or plan for the park. Judge Magers said that clears up some things that have been allowed at the park that were technically not allowed under the current lease like a recent Ducks Unlimited dinner that was held at the Texoma Exposition & Livestock Show property.

TELS President Jim Copeland said he is in favor of the plan now but the TELS board wasn't always behind the plan. "In my opinion, it got skewed from the beginning and all kinds of bad information got sent out," he said. But after he has had multiple conversations with commissioners, Judge Magers, Gott and Rex, Copeland said, he feels better about the plan. 

"I have no reason to believe that TELS may not be in a better spot with the city of Denison than they are with the county," he said adding that the group has had the same landlord, the county, since 1957 so there was some trepidation about the change.

"You know you want to do your best to protect the $2.2 million of worth of assets that TELS has on county property," he said. 

He said the main concerns for the board have been addressed in the agreement. 

"I have no reason to believe that the city of Denison is not going to do everything they say they are going to do." 

He said the concern is that TELS has the legal language it needs to protect its property regardless of who is leading Denison at any particular point in the future.

"It's not perfect," he said of the agreement, "for the negotiations that we've had, I think it is probably about as good as we could expect to be treated." 

Frontier Village President Charla Harris, "We are proud and honored to celebrate our 50th year of operation this coming January 1st." She said to make it 50 years had been an accomplishment because the organization has had to pay its own way to maintain the homes on its property at Loy Lake Park. 

"Being the keepers of the history of Grayson County, we're apprehensive about change," she said. "What I have seen so far, this is going to be what we need to continue to survive for the next 50 years." She added that they have enjoyed being a part of the county family, but the city of Denison is offering them the financial help that they need. 

"Our board of directors is very excited about this," she added.