Source: Amy Lavalley, Chicago Tribune, November 30, 2016
The more than 170 people who showed up at Woodland Park Tuesday were clearly frustrated with the entire process that has precipitated the ability for liquor to be served at the Indiana Dunes State Park pavilion. … But while the purpose of the gathering was a hearing by the state’s Natural Resources Commission to put a state rule in compliance with a new state law about liquor at the park, the meeting grew contentious when the hearing officers told the crowd that the new law would override the rule regardless of whether it was changed. … A new state statute that took effect in July allowed the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to apply for a three-way liquor license for the state park pavilion. The license was granted in August and is being held in escrow by the DNR until the work to renovate the pavilion, including a fine dinging restaurant and rooftop bar, is complete by Pavilion Partners, which is led by Valparaiso businessman Chuck Williams. In a public/private partnership with the DNR, those plans also include an adjacent, 17,000-square-foot banquet center. Both the plans for serving liquor at the pavilion and the banquet center have generated a wide swath of opposition from the grassroots group Dunes Action and others since the plans became public more than a year and a half ago.
An Indiana House committee voted 12-0 for a bill that would breathe life into a stalled privatization deal that awarded a long-term lease to a well-connected Republican developer
Source: Associated Press, January 28, 2016
An Indiana House committee approved a bill that could put an embattled privatization deal back on track by allowing a politically connected developer to sell alcohol at proposed restaurants and a bar at Indiana Dunes State Park. The House Public Policy Committee voted 12-0 Wednesday in favor of a bill by Rep. Sean Eberhart, a Shelbyville Republican. The measure would allow the Department of Natural Resources to obtain liquor permits for state parks.
Opinion: End privatization at Indiana Dunes State Park
Source: Jim Sweeney, NWITimes.com, January 13, 2016
Let’s hope that 2016 brings an end to the privatization of our Indiana Dunes State Park beach. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has signed a lease to allow the construction of a banquet center on the beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park. If allowed, how could they say no to any other commercial venture in this or any park? … State parks are part of the public trust. We enable our state government to protect special places for their unique landscapes, cultural history, plants and animals, etc. They protect them for us. Pause Current Time 0:00 / Duration Time 0:00 Loaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00 Fullscreen 00:00 Unmute As part of this trust, it requires public funding or that whole philosophy goes out the window. Turning it over to a for-profit entity is a betrayal of that trust.
Politically connected developer dealt setback in Indiana Dunes privatization bid
Source: Brian Soldysko, Associated Press, October 6, 2015
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. The state 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. … Williams, a 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.
Indiana Dunes privatization riles conservationists
Source: Associated Press, August 28, 2015
Yet five years after a politically connected developer suggested officials should hire a company to rehabilitate a dilapidated beachfront pavilion at the popular tourist destination, a small construction project has ballooned into a decades-long privatization deal with the state. It includes two beachfront restaurants, a rooftop bar, a glass-walled banquet hall promising “the best view in Indiana” — and there is potential for more development to come. What’s more, the company ultimately picked to do the job was co-founded by Chuck Williams, the developer who pitched the initial idea. Williams, a regional chairman of the state Republican Party, worked behind the scenes for over a year with the administrations of two GOP governors, shaping and expanding the plans. He faced competition from just one other company — a bid that was deemed “good” though not as profitable. … Still, opponents say the favorable terms of the contract, as well as the apparent advantage Williams had over his competitors, are indicative of murky proceedings that can surround privatization deals. Aside from Williams’ involvement, some question whether the state should have involved any private company to shape the long-term vision for Indiana Dunes State Park, a publicly owned property that draws more than a million yearly visitors.