The Porter County
Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission, a branch of Porter County
Government, passed a resolution 7-1 Thursday in support of both the Dunes
Pavilion renovation project and proposed banquet center by Pavilion
Partners, LLC, following a two hour forum pitting proponents against
Jesse Harper was
the PCCRVC board’s one “no” vote while board member and Pavilion Partners
principal Chuck Williams recused himself.
It was a standing
room only crowd at the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso which seats over
300 people. Comments from both sides were limited to two minutes per person
and all were warned that if respect and decorum were not shown, the forum
would be stopped.
In opening remarks,
PCCRVC President Mitch Peters said that he promised to hold a public
discussion due to the Indiana DNR’s “inability” to address points that have
come up related to the project.
No one from the DNR
participated in the discussion.
Peters did say
however he was “saddened in many respects” by “misrepresentation of the
facts” over the last few days before giving the floor to Pavilion Partners’
spokesperson Deb Butterfield.
slideshow touted the projected financial benefits the pavilion will bring to
local communities and the state. To the Indiana DNR, Pavilion Partners will
pay $18,000 a year for lease rent, two percent of gross revenue after the
first two years (about $150,000 annually), and provide $100,000 in annual
maintenance savings, Butterfield said. The 35-year lease benefit would be
about $8.75 million for the DNR, according to Butterfield’s figures.
Using data from the
PCCRVC’s recent economic impact study, the banquet center’s projected
economic impact by its third year in operation would be $9.3 million to
local business, which doesn’t include the direct cost of weddings,
“comfort center” will open next week, Butterfield said, with remodeled
restrooms, showers, stalls, and a splash pad.
renovation on all levels of the Pavilion is expected to be complete, with an
ice cream stand, general store, casual dining, Great Lakes craft beer, and
new first aid and lifeguard stations on the first floor.
The second floor
will contain a yoga room, art studio, dance studio, spa, and fine dining
featuring a wine bar and outdoor balcony seating.
The third floor, or
the roof, will be a bar and grill restaurant with seating for over 200. It
will be suited for events such as birthdays, wedding rehearsals and
for the Pavilion: $2.7 million.
hopes to start construction on the banquet center in spring of 2016 with a
completion date of spring 2017.
The building would
consist of two floors, 8,500 sq. ft. each, with an open balcony and ADA
accessible seating for beachgoers.
for the banquet center: $4 million.
Pavilion Partners vows to follow all guidelines of the Land and Water
Conservation Fund act in regards to the conversion of use from outdoor
recreation and the environmental assessments, which prompted some jeering
laughs from the crowd.
But Butterfield was
resolute and added that Pavilion Partners is carefully addressing concerns
regarding light and noise pollution and migratory bird routes.
Butterfield tried to put to rest were that parking will not be set aside for
guests or employees for events and banquets will not be held until after 6
p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
She also said that
alcohol will not be permitted on the beach, but the state does allow for
Pavilion Partners to have a liquor license. Legislation passed this year
also allows alcohol to be consumed within 100 feet of the pavilion and
A hotel and marina
are not part of the plans, she said.
While the previous
forum at Chesterton Middle School heard two proponents, Thursday’s forum saw
nearly a dozen.
Speaking first was
President of Lake County’s Tourism Bureau Speros Batistatos who read a
letter from the non-profit “Dunes National Parks Association,” which he is a
part of. The Association believes that too many visitors to Northwest
Indiana are spending little money and leaving while the Pavilion and banquet
center will rake in millions of dollars.
saying, “We’ll be glad to have this in Lake County. We’ll take it any day.”
High School 2006 graduate and Porter County Plan Commission member Kyle
Yelton said he hoped he could have his wedding next year at the banquet
center, but with Pavilion Partners not being able to start construction, the
money spent will be spent in southern Indiana instead.
Forum CEO and former Duneland Chamber of Commerce President Heather Ennis
said she’s “so tired of seeing cars drive from Illinois to Michigan to
recreate” and not stopping in Indiana. She said tourism projects like this
one will create jobs for local residents and asked the PCCRVC to pass a
resolution supporting Pavilion Partners.
resident Don Babcock and a few others recalled happy times they had visiting
the Dunes as youngsters and visiting the Red Lantern restaurant on the
beach. Those types of experiences they hope can happen again for new
Larry Bamesberger spoke favorably about having a restaurant at the Dunes but
then said he doesn’t support this project in that public input was not taken
before the contract was signed and it should be canceled, which drew
applause from opponents.
Councilwoman Jeannine Virtue, whose husband Scott Virtue is the architect
for Pavilion Partners, asserted “there is so much misinformation” and asked
for opponents to learn the facts and stop the “hyperbullying.”
“Civility is always
the best practice. We can agree to disagree but let’s not kill each other
over it,” she said.
There are more
proponents out there, she said, but many express fear of saying so.
First in line for
opponents was longtime Dunes supporter Herb Read whose family helped create
the state park.
“If it wasn’t for
us, you wouldn’t have anything to brag about,” Read told the board, whose
doing-business-as moniker is Indiana Dunes Tourism. The pavilion renovation
is not the point of contention for those against the project, the banquet
center is, Read said.
Parks employee Norman Hellmers said his 31 year career in tourism has taught
him the first rule is don’t compromise your strongest asset.
“If you screw up
your primary attraction, then you don’t know a thing about tourism,” he
Desi Robertson, an
organizer of the Dunes Action group leading the opposition, said that in
reference to learning the facts, the public has not had full access to
information because “so much has been done behind closed doors.” Her
question for the board: Was anyone from the PCCRVC board involved in
negotiating any part of the DNR prospectus that began the process for a
public/private partnership to renovate the Pavilion.
“The answer is
none,” said Peters.
Pam Rearick said over 4,000 protesters have signed a petition and asked
would the tourism board take their views into consideration.
Julie Roesler: This
is free land to (Pavilion Partners) that belongs to us.
Gary Brown: This is
a sweetheart deal. This is a back door deal. It’s not right to give public
land to private interests.
Linda Schwab: A
vast majority are drawn to (the Dunes) because of its natural beauty, in
short eco-tourism. You’re all missing a huge boat and it’s going to sail
away if this thing is built.
When this project fails, who is going to adopt the orphan child?
Nothing about this is positive.
Alcohol on the
A repeated concern
among speakers was allowing alcohol to be served at the Dunes and on the
beach, stressing an increased risk of drownings.
Eric Schlene, who
grew up in Jackson Twp. but now lives in West Lafayette, said he asked the
DNR Law Enforcement Division for information on citations issued from 2010
to 2014 in Indiana Dunes State Park. Schlene said the data shows that the
percentage of infractions related to drugs and alcohol rose from 10 percent
in 2010 to over 60 percent in 2014, even though alcohol is banned at the
Alcoholic Beverage Commission member Kenard Taylor said he’s researched the
new law (SB 515) passed about the 100-foot rule for alcohol and he feels
certain that the DNR will not allow alcohol on the beach.
encouraged those who were nervous about speaking to submit questions in
writing. Questions will be answered by Pavilion Partners on the PCCRVC’s