Chesterton Tribune

 
 

County and feds finally renew Dunes Visitor Center lease

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Good things come to those who wait, and the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission has waited a long time – more than ten months to be exact.

On Tuesday, the PCCRVC along with the National Parks Service accomplished the last stage of renewing a five-year lease agreement on space shared at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center located on Ind. 49 just south of U.S. 20

PCCRVC attorney David Hollenbeck and PCCRVC board president Mitch Peters, who donned blue and red bow ties in honor of the new Orville Redenbacher statue unveiled earlier that day in Valparaiso’s Central Park, asked the county board of commissioners to sign off on the final version of the lease which has been in limbo since last November.

At that time, the commissioners agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the NPS on usage of the 12,300 square-foot visitor center. The PCCRVC uses the building for offices and to promote Porter County, while the NPS houses the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitors Center and holds some of its interpretive programs there.

A previous MOU and lease were agreed to when the visitor center was built in 2006 by the county and Hollenbeck said the agreement has worked to benefit both agencies and their missions.

“For the last six years, it has been a great synergetic relationship,” he said.

An official lease agreement had to be agreed upon by the General Services Administration, the federal organization which pays the lease. But despite many attempts on Hollenbeck’s part, months passed without any communication from representatives of GSA, causing a few grumblings from PCCRVC board members who said the visitor center relies on that lease money to pay its day-to-day operating costs.

Communication was made last spring and this past week Hollenbeck met with the County Attorney Betty Knight who approved the proposed lease.

All three county commissioners – President John Evans, R-North, Carole Knoblock, D-South and Nancy Adams, R-Center – additionally voted in approval.

With the lease in place, PCCRVC Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said the GSA will pay back rent. The lease will start its first year at $56,000 and grow to $63,000 for its fifth and final year to cover anticipated additional operational costs.

Weimer said the Visitor Center is there to accommodate the 3.5 million visitors to the Dunes each year and it takes both the PCCRVC and park staff to handle the volume. “We need each other to do that.”

The visitor center has already received upgrades such as a wider projector screen in its theater.

Weimer said more conversations are currently taking place between the agencies on enhancing the exhibits.

 

 

Posted 9/5/2012