WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?
In 2011, the DNR issued a Prospectus for the adaptive reuse of the Historic Dunes Pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Two proposals were received: one from a commercial developer, Pavilion Partners, LLC (PP), and another from a non-profit group, Dunes Pavilion Renaissance. In May 2012, the DNR began lease negotiations with PP. In February 2015, the DNR signed a 35-year lease (plus two 15 yr extensions) with PP to renovate the Pavilion, construct a new “comfort center”, and build and operate a massive private conference/banquet center building next to the pavilion on the beach. Plans to renovate the historic original Pavilion building is not a restoration. Instead, the iconic Pavilion could be turned into nothing more than a commercial mini-mall (plans include several restaurants serving alcohol, a Craft beer house, a Yoga/dance studio, Photography studio, etc.). Currently, the public has no way of knowing what the new building will look like or how large it will be. The DNR site says it will be 17,000 SF, but this conflicts with previous statements made by Deb Butterfield, PP spokesperson, who originally quoted 30,000 SF. It is also unclear if the new size includes the lower ground level or the connecting entryway. Whatever the size, the DNR will receive just $18,000 per year in rent, plus 2% of gross receipts after 2 years of operation. Contracts were signed by the DNR with private parties without any public knowledge or public input. News of the lease was only made public in late February.
WHO IS PAVILION PARTNERS, LLC?
PPLLC includes Valparaiso businessman Chuck Williams, the Dist. 1 GOP Chair and appointed member of the Tourism Board; Tom Collins, Vice President of Luke Oil, and Ryan Richardson, who operate County Line Orchard in Hobart and managed the now closed Strongbow's restaurant; and architect Scott Virtue, who worked with Williams on renovating 212 Lincolnway in Valparaiso.
IS THIS A BAIT AND SWITCH?
The general public knew about, and supported the idea to restore the Historic Pavilion. But the public was never told that the plan also included a massive new separate building. Shock and surprise erupted when the hulking box on stilts was declared the new banquet and conference center, three years AFTER the DNR went before the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) seeking permission to strike a deal with PP. In the minutes of the May 15, 2012 NRC meeting, DNR officials never specifically mention that a massive separate building would be erected on the east concrete patio. That patio is utilized for grilling, picnicking, and handicapped/senior citizen access.
WHY HAVEN'T WE HEARD ABOUT THIS BEFORE?
Though the DNR continues to claim the process has been transparent, they often remind the public that their input is not legally required. And why wouldn’t they want to include the public? Maybe because in 2006, the DNR was forced to withdraw a proposed beach hotel due to public outrage. Deputy Director John Davis bluntly admitted on April 15th, that the DNR did not solicit public input before the lease was signed because, “We felt we would never get to that’ a signed contract—‘if we started out with public meetings.”
HOW WILL THIS IMPACT ME?
Any building east of the Pavilion, regardless of design, will block that wonderful view of the beach and the lake from the parking lot - specifically affecting seniors and the physically challenged. It will eliminate the sunny picnic pad, a gathering place for family and friends for generations. There will be more competition for parking spots, especially for evening beach goers. If you treasure the solace of sundown on the beach, that will be lost for every event (parties, wedding banquets, etc). If you enjoy the night sky, you will only have that option when they decide to turn off the lights in the parking lot. Alcohol could be served on all three levels of the Pavilion, the new banquet center, and possibly within 100 feet of the entire Pavilion parking lot; think intoxicated visitors in your family friendly Dunes and more stress on lifeguards and law enforcement. If you think a state park should be a haven for wildlife, know that the huge windows in the banquet hall will threaten birds that migrate along the lakeshore. Local businesses will lose banquets, meetings, and meals to a facility on public land paying no real estate taxes with the best view on the Indiana shoreline.
HOW WILL THIS IMPACT THE DUNES?
The proposed new structure and its uses will be disruptive to the unique natural character of the park. Events at the bars and banquet center will disturb wildlife by increasing noise pollution. Currently, as one of the last public dark sky sites in all of Northwest Indiana, it is still possible to see 5th magnitude stars, meteor showers, and the Milky Way at the State Park. The planned installation of streetlights by Pavilion Partners LLC, will make it impossible to experience such cultural resources. Furthermore, the new structure will be a major obstacle for migrating birds and bats along an already crowded and intensely developed lakeshore. The Lake Michigan shoreline is critically important to millions of migratory birds, which use the shoreline as an important resting area. The DNR has maintained that they are not required to issue an environmental impact statement.
WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP IT?
Despite what the DNR and Pavilion Partners insist, this is NOT a done deal! We will stop it, but we need your help! Please donate to the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America - Dunes Action fund to help cover the costs of the legal battle and general campaign. We also need everyone to continue spreading the word about this issue. Write letters to the Editor, Tweet and share our page on Facebook! Discuss the issue with your friends, family, and neighbors. Finally, contact Governor Pence and your State legislators. Tell them “No New Building on Dunes State Park Beach!”. Regularly check our "URGENT - CALL TO ACTION" link.