(AP) - A politically connected developer is warning that Indiana could owe
him millions of dollars if setbacks scuttle his contract to bring fine
dining, a banquet hall and bars to a lakefront state park surrounded by
the state’s towering dunes.
In his first
expansive public remarks since controversy enveloped the project,
developer Chuck Williams told The Associated Press that he is appealing a
state agency’s decision to deny him a liquor license. He views the license
as key to moving forward with his planned rehabilitation and expansion of
a dilapidated beachfront pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park.
“At the end of
the day, if I can’t move forward, they got an empty building and a
liability of a couple million dollars,” Williams told the AP, referring to
his state contract.
states Williams has the “right to offer” alcohol and provides ways for him
to recoup expenses if the deal falls through.
Now the project,
nestled among dunes molded over thousands of years at the southern tip of
Lake Michigan, is on hold pending the outcome of the appeal filed Tuesday.
For five years,
Williams worked behind the scenes with state Department of Natural
Resources officials, securing a decades-long privatization deal. But once
the project was formally announced last March, it was engulfed in
controversy amid accusations from environmentalists and others that
Williams used political clout to get a sweetheart deal that was negotiated
without the public’s input.
state could owe Williams money if the contract is broken, Jim Sweeney, of
the conservationist group The Izaak Walton League of America, says he is
fine with taxpayer money going to reimburse Williams if it will avoid
turning the pavilion into a “three-floor saloon.”
“He deserves to
be paid for what he’s done already, whether we like it or not,” Sweeney
The DNR did not
directly respond to questions about whether Williams would be owed money
if he can’t get a liquor license. In a statement the agency said the
contract does “contain provisions that address each party’s
responsibilities, including financial, should the contract be terminated.”
Williams, a state
Republican Party official who has donated handsomely to GOP causes, denies
his political connections played any role in getting the contract, calling
those suggestions “absolutely false.” However, he acknowledged to the AP
that he frequently interacted with then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and managed to
tap into a network of acquaintances that led him to officials who
shepherded the deal.
counters that he had “a vision and a passion” to rehabilitate a building
that the state has neglected since he was a child. He says he poured money
into a project that the state had refused to fund. That’s despite the
state sitting on a $2 billion budget surplus and recently budgeting $24
million to develop new accommodations at Potato Creek State Park.
“A building, if
it’s empty, rots. And this building has been underutilized my entire
life,” Williams said of the pavilion near the dunes. He also accused his
opponents of behaving like a “lynch mob” while using the threat of boycott
to silence his supporters.
attacking businesses that don’t see things their way, they are bullying
people and they’ve been effective,” Williams said.
Robertson, of the Group Dunes Action!, says murky proceedings that
surround the deal raises a red flag.
“They had five
years to think this thing through,” she said. “If they had done it the
proper way they wouldn’t’ be in this boat.”