Chesterton Tribune



County alcohol board 3-1 against Pavilion liquor permit

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The nays have it: Over 500 people turned out in opposition to a permit for Pavilion Partners to serve alcohol at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Opponents cited safety concerns, loss of a family-friendly focus at the beach, impacts on the tranquility of the beach and wildlife, the proximity of Lake Michigan and it’s dangers, among other objections when they spoke at the Porter County Alcohol Board hearing Thursday evening at the Expo Center.                              (Tribune photo by Alisa Maiville)


Related story and photos: Williams explains application 'mistake'; DNR chief speaks



A 3-1 majority of the Porter County Alcohol Beverage Commission cited community opposition in its decision Thursday not to support a permit to sell alcohol at the renovated pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park and the proposed banquet hall.

The application, submitted by Pavilion Partners LLC, will now go to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, with a recommendation to deny, which is expected to review the permit application on Tuesday, Sept. 29, said Indiana Excise Officer Jamie Patrick, who is a voting member of the County ABC.

Patrick was the only “yea” vote for the permit while members Edward Fritz, Ralph Levi and Rudolph Sutton all voted no.

The board had voted 2-2 initially in June with Patrick and Levi voting yes. The Indiana ATC kicked the application back to the County ABC because Sutton said he wanted to have more information.

Over 500 people were in attendance for the meeting which lasted over four hours. The meeting was held at the Expo Center as the Indiana ATC had directed the local board to conduct the meeting at a bigger venue.

Two hours consisted of comments from the floor, with 45 speaking in opposition, many of them from Duneland, and five in favor.

During the meeting Patrick also gave these figures. The ATC board received about 700 emails against the application and 15 emails in favor. Also received were roughly 500 “letters and cards” urging support for Pavilion Partners and 300 written or typed letters in opposition.


ABC board members later questioned the postcards that were printed off for supporters to send in. Patrick said he had heard an allegation that the postcards were “being passed out at a casino.”

Pavilion Partners Principal Chuck Williams said the rumor was “absolutely false” and that “no one from my team or organization” had done that to his knowledge.

The postcards were sent out to “family and friends” in mostly Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties who wished to help, Williams said.


During the public comment portion, most of the supporters spoke early on.

Porter County Visitors Commission Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said an audit in 2005 recommended revamping the pavilion and further input from both the Indiana and Illinois Restaurant Association advised the pavilion allowed to sell alcohol.

Weimer mentioned that the PCCRVC board voted 7-1 in support of the pavilion project.

Northwest Indiana Forum Director and CEO Heather Ennis that her board unanimously voted in favor of Pavilion Partners and has faith they will be able to manage their patrons.

“We have wonderful assets and can enjoy them when we act responsibly. There are laws that protect these interests,” she said.

A recent article appearing in the New York Times highlighted places of interest surrounding Lake Michigan and largely ignored Indiana because of the Dunes not having a restaurant.

Saying the pavilion will be big economic draw for Northwest Indiana, Lake County South Shore Visitors Commission CEO Speros Batistatos asked the board to acknowledge that “alcohol is legal” under the 21st amendment of the U.S. Constitution and not to listen to any of the “fear mongering.”

Porter County Republican Party Executive Director Kenard Taylor, who votes on the ABC when there is a Valparaiso case, said he lives three blocks from the historic downtown Valparaiso business district and restaurants there were struggling until the City allowed special permits for alcohol. Now business is booming and there are no problems with “drunks walking down the street.”

Taylor believes those involved in Pavilion Partners to be “very responsible.”


For the most part, the ABC heard a constant stream of concerns about how safety will be compromised at Dunes State Park with alcohol at the Pavilion and wondering what will be done to make sure no one intoxicated will walk onto the beach or in the lake.

The other dominant grievance spoken is that alcohol would change the park’s character as a family-friendly park.

Desi Robertson, co-founder of Dunes Action group which has been leading the opposition, presented a petition against the permit with 1,175 signatures.

“(The Dunes) is a family place now. Alcohol is not allowed in the park,” she said. Both sides of the aisle agreed that the law does not allow alcohol on the beach, but Robertson asked the ABC to recognize that the Pavilion itself “sits on the beach.”

Another member of Dunes Action, Norm Hellmers, said that alcohol will be on the beach if a person drinking leaves the pavilion because “it’s in their bodies.” Hellmers also said that the application Pavilion Partners submitted for the alcohol permit should name the investors since it asks for information from anyone who has an interest in the company.

Former Jackson Twp. resident Eric Schlene said he looked at the number of citations from the DNR in Dunes State Park and they have increased since 2010 even though alcohol is prohibited.

Sandra Johnson of the Woodville Foundation, made up of mostly Liberty Twp. residents, have announced they are against the project.

Beatrice Owen of the Porter County Substance Abuse Council said her organization also takes an opposing stance and named a long list of organization members.

Duneland Schools teacher Kristine Petro said she is concerned that alcohol will impair the educational opportunities that the Dunes Park currently provides.

Chesterton resident Margaret Willis told the ABC board she read that they denied an alcohol permit for the Portage IMAX theater because parents drop their kids off there. She sees this as a similar matter as many teenagers visit the Dunes without adult supervision.

Chesterton resident Pam Rearick read aloud a letter from Mark McKibben who was the property manager for Dunes State Park from 1986 to 1990 when the alcohol ban went into effect. McKibben urged against issuing the permit based on the past experience with alcohol fueled violence and gang fights at the beach.

A few local business owners expressed opposition, saying their operations will be harmed.


Board members followed up with Williams and his attorney Melissa Coxey on Pavilion Partners’ intentions to maintain order with alcohol allowed. Williams stated the company would ultimately be responsible for safety and would hire additional security.

At the end, Patrick asked each member to vote and give an explanation if they were opposed.

Levi, who spent much time questioning the “100-foot-rule”, said he was voting no because the Dunes is a “unique area” and it’s apparent the majority of the community isn’t in favor of the service.

Both Fritz and Sutton also voted no because of the community opposition, but they and Levi wanted the public to know that the ABC “is not anti-business.”

“I have to vote no because the community doesn’t want it,” Sutton said.

Patrick said he agrees too that the Dunes are unique and doesn’t know if it can be considered a community, but voted yes because it had been supported by the County Tourism Bureau and the Northwest Indiana Forum.

Anti-drug coalition opposes alcohol at the beach: Beatrice Owen, executive director of the Porter County Anti-Drug Coalition, remonstrated against an alcohol permit at Indiana Dunes Sate Park at Thursday’s hearing. Owen said her board approved her remonstrance and read the extensive list of coalition members, including law enforcement agencies like Chesterton Police, first responders, and community groups.                                         (Tribune photo by Alisa Maiville)


Posted 9/11/2015




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