Chesterton Tribune



Guest Commentary: Privatization of Dunes State Park pavilion and conference center at the beach draw fire

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Guest Commentary

By Michael T. Sawyier

I read with some concern the celebratory article in the February 27 issue of your newspaper about the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion “rehabilitation” project that is now (finally) under way. My concerns are as follows.

First, as the lawyer for a group of very prominent local residents who had sought to carry out that same project, and submitted a bid to do so, some years ago by means of a publicly supported 501(c)(3) charity and its wholly-owned “L3C” operating subsidiary, I can state categorically that the DNR’s request for proposals ruled out any such additional construction as the massive new convention center next to the Pavilion that the private developer has now planned. Thus, I have a concern about the process that led to the DNR’s initial acceptance and two-year continuance of the private developer’s bid that was evidently conditioned upon that additional construction.

Second, despite the encomiums about that conference center offered up by the private developer’s paid public relations spokesperson in the article, I question whether the construction of such a purely commercial, private facility on the public beach itself alongside the Pavilion is consistent with the emerging public trust doctrine of beach property law. That is the doctrine which prohibits the State from selling off the public’s beach as so much supposed “excess property” to the highest bidder.

Several years ago, because of that doctrine, the City of Chicago was enjoined from selling to Loyola University a large tract of submerged Lake Michigan beachfront land on which that university had planned to construct an expansion of its Chicago campus. So, now, because of the purported “public/private partnership” between this private developer and the DNR, the State is, in effect, selling to this politically connected developer the exclusive use rights to the convention center to be constructed on ( or fronting on ) the public beach right next to the Pavilion? Why, if that is permissible, may the State not sell off a large swath of the entire Lake Michigan beach to a luxury condo/hotel developer? (Of course, that, too, may be in the cards.)

Apart from these legal concerns, there are major public policy concerns about the appropriateness of the proposed new private convention center on the public’s property. As an ex-Chicagoan, I can attest that many people in that city - - and, indeed, even the Chicago Tribune - - now rue the day that McCormick Place (a publicly owned and operated facility) was constructed in Burnham Park.

Who are the members of this private LLC and what are the terms of the secret deal that it struck with the State?

Your readers deserve answers to these questions as well as the others suggested above.


Posted 3/12/2015




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