Chesterton Tribune



Dunes Action calls for termination and probe of Pavilion Partners Indiana Dunes lease

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Dunes Action is calling for an immediate halt to the Pavilion banquet center project at the Indiana Dunes State Park and is recommending that an investigation be done into whether political ties influenced the lease with Pavilion Partners LLC (PPLLC) by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

The action comes in the wake of an Associated Press story published in the Chesterton Tribune Thursday. The AP reported that Chuck Williams, a regional chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, not only got the contract without the normal competitive bidding process, but was the developer who pitched the initial idea. Williams, the AP reported, worked behind the scenes for over a year with the administrations of two GOP governors, shaping and expanding the plans.

“It’s time for this lease to be canceled immediately, and for an outside party to take a serious look at how the process took place,” said Desi Robertson, Co-founder of Dunes Action. “This is probably only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

Dunes Action said emails obtained via open records requests have shown that members of what is now PPLLC actually pitched the project to the IDNR well over a year before a public request for proposals was issued. Both PPLLC principal Chuck Williams, and Scott Virtue, the project architect, exchanged multiple emails and met with IDNR staff in 2010 and early 2011, the group said.

PPLLC was awarded a 35 year lease with two possible 15 year extensions in February of this year to renovate the pavilion building, construct restroom facilities and build a banquet center at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

The group says it is unclear if the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) was aware of the prior contact between PPLLC and the department. The NRC was required to approve the IDNR’s vendor selection to negotiate a contract, and did so by voice vote at a commission meeting on May 15, 2012. Few details about the extent of the project were recorded in the official meeting minutes.

“Dunes Action has been pointing out the serious flaws in both the lease process and the execution of this project since the beginning of April. Now it’s becoming clear that political cronyism played a part in the deal. Pavilion Partners had a competitive advantage that no other company could have overcome. . . . Pavilion Partners had a huge head start, along with the extra advantage of having met with the IDNR to discuss details before the official process began,” said Robertson.

The Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League and Dunes Action have previously made a case for stopping the project on the grounds that it violates federal guidelines set out in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965. The LWCF guidelines require approval from the National Park Service prior to the start of the project.

Dunes Action! is a volunteer, non-partisan coalition.


Posted 9/2/2015




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