(AP) — State officials have upheld a decision denying a liquor license
to a politically connected developer who won a contract to bring a
restaurant, bar and banquet hall to lakefront state park property lining
Indiana's towering dunes.
Alcohol and Tobacco Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday, siding with a local
board that denied a license to Chuck Williams in September. Williams
says the decision imperils the whole multi-million dollar project to
rehabilitate and build out the park's dilapidated pavilion, which is
nestled among the dunes molded over thousands of years at the southern
tip of Lake Michigan.
made a convincing argument that alcohol sales are needed to make the
project viable, his need for alcohol sales doesn't "translate to a need
for (those) services in the neighborhood and the community," Chairman
David Cook said of the Porter County board's 3-1 vote rejecting
Williams' permit application.
not attend the hearing, and a spokeswoman for his group Pavilion
Partners did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The
decision can be appealed and Williams could ultimately take the matter
For five years,
Williams worked behind the scenes on the project with state Department
of Natural Resources officials, securing a decades-long privatization
deal. But once the project was formally announced last March, it was
engulfed in controversy amid accusations that Williams used political
clout to get a sweetheart deal, working with the state long before the
project went out to bid.
high-ranking state Republican Party official who has donated handsomely
to GOP causes, has denied his political connections played a role, and
the Indiana DNR says it followed state and federal laws and did not give
Williams preferential treatment. However, legal experts have said the
deal raises red flags and amounts to a long-term give-away of cherished
public parkland. They questioned why the state didn't seek additional
bids on the project. The only competing offer came from a nonprofit
group of local conservationists, lawyers and finance professionals.
boards are given significant discretion under state law and have
wide-ranging authority to approve or deny requests for alcohol permits.
Cook indicated the Porter County alcohol board acted in good faith and
widely publicized the meeting where Williams' application was heard.
Before reaching a decision, proponents and opponents were allowed to
offer detailed testimony during a four-hour long hearing. Many who later
wrote letters in support of Williams' project were actually from
Illinois, Cook said.
Chairman David Coleman questioned why the state ceded so much control of
the building to Williams.
"I think it's
the state's duty to keep that building in tip-top shape and they just
haven't done it. It should be the tax payers sharing equally in that
burden," Coleman said.