Chesterton Tribune



Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center lease still up in air

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Indiana Dunes Tourism is still in the throes of negotiating its new lease for the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center with the National Park Service.

Executive Director Lorelei Weimer reported at last week’s Tourism Board meeting that proposals were still being sent back and forth between her and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is negotiating the lease on behalf of the federal General Services Administration. Red tape precludes Weimer from negotiating directly with NPS.

Weimer has been trying to negotiate an increase in the amount NPS contributes to the operating costs of the Visitor Center on Ind. 49, which is a joint operation of Dunes Tourism and NPS as outlined in a memorandum of understanding the two entities agreed on when the new building was built. Both agencies gave up separate, smaller visitor centers to share the one on Ind. 49.

The current lease operates on a “three-bucket” system, according to Tourism Board Attorney David Hollenbeck. NPS pays a base rent and a portion of operating expenses, and contributes to a capital project fund. An increase in visitation due to the Indiana Dunes gaining National Park status has necessitated a new agreement where NPS pays more for operations, according to Weimer.

Weimer reported Thursday that the most recent offer on the table from the Army Corps of Engineers was a three-year extension of the current lease with NPS paying a base $83,000 in year one, $89,007 in year two, and $95,021 in year three. Weimer said they remain closed off to the idea of a capital contribution.

Weimer came back suggesting a three-year extension where NPS pays $85,009 in year one, $91,013 in year two, and $97,016 in year three. Weimer said NPS should be paying at least $93,000 per year, based on a recent market study of similar facilities, so even in her proposal, Tourism is “subsidizing” NPS in years one and two. Weimer also wants the MOU attached to the lease to ease the process of future negotiations, since the partnership between Tourism and NPS has caused some consternation among the federal agencies who have to sign-off on the lease.

Weimer and Hollenbeck were looking for approval to go ahead with an agreement before the Board’s next meeting because the lease expires in November, but the Board couldn’t act for lack of a quorum.

Board Treasurer Richard Riley noted the Board’s grant committee has to meet soon anyway, and suggested the Board could hold a special meeting that same day to give Weimer and Hollenbeck approval. If the lease expires before a new agreement is in place, NPS stops paying, but will pay back its missed share later.

Other Business

In other business, Weimer said Community Engagement Director Kailey Capuano has resigned effective end of this year, with plans to relocate and attend graduate school. Weimer is already looking for a replacement, who Capuano will train.

Weimer also reported Dunes Tourism is excited to be a part of the commissioning of the USS Indianapolis at Port of Indiana on Saturday, Oct. 26. Weimer said Tourism has purchased Hoosier mini-bats with a special emblem to give to the 150-person crew and is securing transportation for special guests at the event. Valparaiso Events has also agreed to provide 2,900 popcorn packets for distribution. “They have cut off tickets because 12,000 people will already be there that day. We’re excited to be a part of that,” Weimer said.


Posted 10/23/2019




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