Chesterton Tribune

State begins talks with prospective operator for Dunes Pavilion restaurant

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The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is getting closer to selecting a business to redevelop the historic Indiana Dunes Pavilion as a restaurant and banquet hall.

The agency on Tuesday was granted permission to carry out contractual negotiations for a private/public partnership with a bidder who they feel is best suited to operate the facility and preserve the pavilion’s historical structure.

DNR assistant director of state park inn and concessions Gary Miller declined to name the group until the negotiations are complete which could be some time yet given the nature of the project.

“It could be just a short while or it could be a matter of six months,” said Miller.

The DNR started accepting proposals late last year after creating a prospectus on the reuse project.

According to the prospectus, for a development of this nature, the term of the lease would be 30 years with two 10-year options to renew. Expected services from the operator include a high quality full service restaurant and banquet service that would “meet the reasonable demands of the public” and operate year-round. The operator may offer meeting facilities, sell merchandise that should be “nature oriented, educational”, offer snack bar concessions and provide restroom and shower facilities.

The prospectus also said that the operator will be responsible for bringing utilities, maintaining the grounds and parking areas, snow removal of immediate roads and abiding by federal historic preservation laws.

Gate fees will still apply ($5 for residents, $10 for out-of-state visitors) but waivers may be approved for short-term banquet or meeting functions for groups of no more than 20 people.

The operator should also maintain general liability insurance and be responsible for all taxes, the prospectus said.

The DNR requested prospective operators demonstrate the ability to carry out the project before an evaluation committee who then submitted the proposal to the National Resources Commission for its approval.

As the operator is chosen, a detailed contract negotiation can begin but selecting an operator does not necessarily mean the acceptance of the proposal, the prospectus states. It acknowledges the DNR is “open to other possibilities proposed by the operator” and that additional items “may or may not be considered in the lease negotiations.”

Meanwhile, the Indiana General Assembly passed a measure this year to lift the state park’s alcohol ban for the pavilion’s private contractor. The ban was lobbied for by the Porter County Tourism Bureau to increase the number of viable firms interested in operating the restaurant.

The bureau’s executive director Lorelei Weimer said her group also helped spread the word about the DNR’s request for proposals and looks forward to ultimately hearing the announcement on who the operator will be.

The pavilion was built in 1930 and had at one time an upscale restaurant. Weimer said the revived restaurant would be the only place in Porter County where visitors can have dinner looking out on Lake Michigan.

Posted 5/16/2012