Indiana Dunes privatization deal hits another speed bump

July 25, 2018

CHESTERTON, Ind. (AP) — A years-long effort to redevelop a historic pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park faces another hurdle after National Park Service officials said “problematic” design changes will require them to conduct another review of the privatization project.

National parks officials said in a July 12 letter that updates to the plans made last August appear to improperly reduce public access throughout the building.

“Ultimately, we found the plans have changed enough to require a new review because the pavilion project no longer ... appears to be supportive of outdoor recreation,” officials wrote.

Developer Chuck Williams, who is also treasurer of the Indiana Republican Party, initially approached state officials in 2010 with plans to bring fine dining and a rooftop bar to the beachfront building nestled among the dunes at the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

But ever since Williams secured a favorable contract from the state — $18,000 a year in rent, plus a 2 percent revenue share — environmentalists have fought him every inch of the way. That led to the letter this month from national park officials, who opted to conduct the new review after the activists complained about the changes.

Williams said on Wednesday that the new review was more of a hiccup than a hurdle.

“It’s a minor thing and we don’t see it as a real big issue,” Williams said.

But why is the federal government dictating what the state can do at its own park in the first place?

Because past park projects were funded with grants from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, activists say that state officials are now obligated to follow procedures and rules set by the program that are intended boost outdoor recreation and preserve public access.

The parks service appeared to be on board with the previous pavilion design, but activists charge that the state failed to notify federal official about the update.

“The new Pavilion plans revolve around enclosed bars, pubs, and ‘fine dining’ restaurants, lacking any connection to ‘outdoor recreation,’” said Paula Dinerstein, an attorney for the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “It appears that the Indiana (Department of Natural Resources) got caught trying to pull a fast one.”