Commissioners continue push for Freeman Ranch

News Reporter

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Commissioners are trying to construct a youth agricultural facility on Freeman Ranch.

Hays County officials are continuing to pursue an agreement with Texas State that would allow the construction of a youth agricultural facility on the Freeman Ranch property, despite university officials’ objections.  

The university was determined a potential site for the facility after county commissioners voted to close the Hays County Civic Center, the former home of local 4-H and FFA chapters, according to a Nov. 21 University Star article. Texas State responded with a letter rejecting the county’s proposal in December, citing legal conflicts with the terms of the Harold Freeman estate that owns the land.

This decision has not caused officials to abandon the proposal, said County Commissioner Will Conley, Precinct 3.
“We still believe wholeheartedly in the idea, and we’re still hopeful we can find a compromise,” Conley said.

The committee tasked with determining a new site for the facility found Freeman Ranch to be an ideal location and believes its plan coincides with the purpose of the land as defined in Freeman’s will, Conley said.

“The location is the bull’s-eye, and it would be a perfect marriage to house the agricultural facility on land designated for education and research,” Conley said.

The choice of location was financially motivated as well, said Bill Nance, vice president for Finance and Support Services.

“To maximize the value of what they sell the current show barn land for, they’re looking for free land somewhere to build a new show barn,” Nance said.

Texas State is an operating co-trustee of Freeman Ranch along with the Frost Bank trust department in San Antonio. Frost Bank must approve any decision regarding its use, Nance said.

“If you read the will in total, it goes on to say that if we act in a manner that Frost Bank’s trust department believes is not consistent with Mr. Freeman’s wishes in his will, they can take [the land] back,” Nance said.

The ranch land would then be sold and the proceeds distributed to certain charity organizations, according to the terms of the will.

The will stipulates the university cannot lease or “otherwise encumber” Freeman Ranch, meaning anything that might impair Frost Bank’s ability to maximize the profit from the sale of the land is forbidden, Nance said.

“A lease is out of the question, but it doesn’t have to be a formal lease document for them to take [the land] away from us,” Nance said.  

County officials are still committed to exploring solutions that might allow the facility to be built in compliance with the terms of the will, such as a possible licensing agreement, Conley said.

“It would be some other type of instrument where we would invest in the building of a facility that would add value to the land,” Conley said.

There is a chance county officials will bring their case before the Board of Regents pending the outcome of the county’s ongoing conversation with the university, Conley said.

“My understanding is that ultimately, the authority lies with the board,” Conley said. “But the support of university officials is essential.”

The county does not have the ability to take a formal action item to the Board of Regents, but officials may use the five-minute public comment period at the end of the meeting to speak to the board, Nance said.

Provost Eugene Bourgeois said he does not expect a change in Texas State’s decision.

“We respect very much Frost Bank’s trust department’s interpretation of that will and their fiduciary obligations to be a co-trustee,” Bourgeois said. “That is their interpretation of the language surrounding that meaning of encumbrance, and we respect and accept that.”