Chesterton Tribune



National Park Service puts the brakes on revised Pavilion Partners dining plans

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The National Park Service has thrown a monkey wrench into Pavilion Partners LLCs revised plans for the conversion of the Pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park into a restaurant.

In a May 15 letter, NPS asked the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) either to direct Pavilion Partners to revert to their original plans, submit updated plans for a new determination, or consider converting the Pavilion.

As of a week ago, DNR had not responded to that letter.

So NPS Assistance Director Jeffrey Reinbold informed the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in a July 12 letter.

In September 2016, NPS found that Pavilion Partners proposed plans for putting a restaurant in the Pavilion would not constitute a conversion of public recreational land under the terms of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act, which prohibits converting public recreational land which has benefited from federal LWCF grant funding into limited access uses. Currently, we believe that the following planned allowable uses (or facilities) will serve the sites outdoor recreating public: lifeguard station, general store, ice cream shop, and different dining options (beachside, sit-down dining room, and roof-top lounge, NPS said at the time.

One year later, however, on Aug. 3, 2017, Pavilion Partners submitted updated plans for the Pavilion to the DNR, but evidently not to NPS. Alerted by PEER earlier this year that the plans had been revised, NPS undertook a review of the new ones. You were correct that we had not seen that new plans had been posted that were different from the version (dating to June 2016) that we previously reviewed, Reinbold told PEER on July 12. We have now compared the previous plans with the updated ones dated Aug. 3, 2017, to ascertain the nature and extent of the changes and assess whether the changes would impact our initial determination. This review took some time, including several calls with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR), to fully understand the revised plans.

NPS conclusion: Ultimately, we found the plans have changed enough to require a new review because the Pavilion project no longer appears to be secondary and supportive of outdoor recreation, Reinbold told PEER.

In particular, Reinbold characterized the following changes as problematic: the loss of public access throughout the building; the appearance of a tilt towards more formalized dining options; and the lack of dedicated public recreation space on the rooftop.

The new Pavilion plan revolves around enclosed bars, pubs, and fine dining restaurants, lacking any connection to outdoor recreation, PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein said in a statement released on Wednesday. Dinerstein added that the DNR seems to have allowed Pavilion Partners to revise its plans without notifying NPS of that fact. It appears that Indiana DNR got caught trying to pull a fast one, she said.

The current plans turn the Pavilion into a tavern on the lake, Dunes Action Member Norm Hellmers said. Weve said all along that fine dining, fancy bars, and rooftop pubs dont support average beachgoers or campers.

Should NPS ultimately find that the LLCs revised plans constitute an actual conversion of public recreational land, the DNR would need to identify and purchase some other property--determined by NPS to be of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location--as a swap.

NPS did find, on the other hand, that the construction of a banquet center adjacent to the Pavilion would constitute such a conversion requiring the acquisition of a substitute property. Although the (banquet) facility could bring additional visitors to the park, it seems these visitors primary purpose for visiting Indiana Dunes would be to attend a function held in the facility, making outdoor recreation secondary to the facility event, NPS said in September 2016. Meanwhile, visitors who come to the park primarily to recreate will not have access to the facility.


NPS did note, in response to questions posed earlier this year by PEER, that the LWCF grant program does support a variety of uses which are either not open to the public at all or are limited to specific users. For example, Reinbold said, assistance can be used to support the development of park maintenance and office facilities to help manage the outdoor recreation resource. These types of facilities would generally be closed to the public. In addition, grant funding can be used to build recreation opportunities limited to specific recreation uses such as dedicated biking or horseback-riding trails, to avoid possible accidents among multiple user groups.

On the question of alcohol service at the Pavilion, moreover, Reinbold said this: We agreed that the revised plans would result in the Pavilion being much less open to the public than originally proposed, and that is the main basis for our current concern. That said, excluding children from certain areas for safety is not in conflict with LWCF policy, nor do we have a policy that food service options in parks must be alcohol-free. That level of oversight into use and management of state or local parks and other recreation sites is beyond the purview of this program.




Posted 7/19/2018





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