Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Williams explains application 'mistake'; DNR chief speaks

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Question and answer: The Porter County Alcohol Board hearing held Thursday evening saw board members (TOP left to right) Ralph Levi, Edward Fritz, Rudy Sutton, and ATC officer Jamie Patrick, seeking answers on the permit application from Pavilion Partners (BOTTOM) Tom Collins, Jr. and Chuck Williams, along with their attorney Melissa Coxey, of Bose McKinney & Evans, of Indianapolis.                                           (Tribune photos by Alisa Maiville)

 

Related Story and Photos: County alcohol board 3-1 against Pavilion liquor permit

 

By JEFF SCHULTZ

Pavilion Partners took the first hour of Thursday’s Porter County Alcohol Board Commission meeting to state its case for an alcohol permit at the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion and to address concerns the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission has regarding the Partners’ application.

Kicking the application request back to the local ABC, ITC Director David Cook’s letter to the ABC directed the board’s attention the fact that principal and Valparaiso businessman Chuck Williams claims to be the sole owner of the LLC, while he checked off on his application that he holds over 60 percent interest in the LLC and another box indicating the LLC has over 41 percent of out-of-state-ownership.

Williams was joined by fellow principal Thomas Collins, vice-president of Luke Oil and one of the owners of County Line Orchard, and Partners’ attorney Melissa Coxey of the Indianapolis law firm Bose McKinney & Evans.

Coxey first asked Williams to explain how the concept for Pavilion Partners came about. Williams said he was on a family vacation in Hawaii in 2010 when he saw a historic building recently renovated that reminded him of the Dunes Pavilion. He spoke with members of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources a few months later about what it would be required if someone wanted to renovate the pavilion and learned that there would need to be a Request for Proposals for a private/public partnership.

DNR Assistant Director of State Parks Gary Miller drafted a prospectus in November 2011, close to the same time the Indiana legislature proposed and eventually passed a bill authored by State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, allowing private vendors to sell alcohol at dining facilities in state parks.

The DNR had 18 requests for the prospectus and two responses. Williams said he had subsequent interviews with the DNR and a lease was signed in February this year.

Lobbying

Williams in his testimony said he “did not lobby to get the alcohol bill” passed, nor did he pay anyone to lobby for him. To his knowledge the bill had been lobbied for by the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission, specifically by its executive director Lorelei Weimer, he said.

Williams was appointed to the PCCRVC by the County Commissioners in 2013, a year after the state approved alcohol for the pavilion.

Weimer, who was given an affidavit by Coxey to speak during the hearing, later said a “destination audit” done in 2005 listed the renovation of the pavilion as a project with potential. Representatives from both the Indiana and Illinois Restaurant Association cautioned the PCCRVC that a restaurateur would “in no way invest dollars if alcohol is not allowed,” which is why the tourism bureau advocated for legislators to change the law, Weimer said.

Williams had told the board at one point, “There’s no possible way in today’s economic climate you can have a restaurant without a liquor license.”

Williams further denied lobbying for Senate Bill 515, which allows liquor to be sold within 100 feet of the pavilion and the parking area, but acknowledged he and the DNR talked with legislators about the change after the bill had been the introduced.

Ownership questioned

ABC member Ralph Levi asked Williams to talk about the checked boxes concerning ownership on the application. The ABC did not have a copy of the permit application form from the ATC at its June 22 meeting and were unaware of the problem.

“It really made this board look bad,” said Levi.

Williams stated he is the sole owner of Pavilion Partners LLC and therefore no other names were listed under ownership on the application. A “mistake was made” in checking yes on the question about out-of-state ownership when it “should have been no,” Williams said.

A revised application was submitted hours before the meeting Thursday, which had the box changed to no and again listed Williams as the sole owner. An extra copy was made for the public to view out in the lobby of the Expo Center.

Williams explained that there are two different entities. There is Pavilion Partners LLC, which submitted the alcohol permit application, and that is different from “Pavilion Partners Management,” the capital investment firm for the pavilion improvements made up of different investors.

When asked who the other investors are, Williams answered Collins and Ryan Richardson, another operator of County Line Orchard. One investor, Peter Kaiafas, was “scared off” by threats to boycott his business on social media, Williams added.

One other difference, the new application names “Kate Grace LLC” as a business that Williams had an interest in which still has a permit from the ATC to sell alcohol. The doing-business-as name was the Hookah Lounge in Valparaiso and is currently in escrow, Williams said.

100-foot law

Levi and board member Rudy Sutton then pressed with questions on a law passed this year allowing alcohol to be sold within 100 feet of the pavilion and parking area. Williams said that in order to do that, a vendor would need to obtain a temporary permit from both the DNR and the ATC.

Part of the law describes an “inn” defined as a place that has 20 rooms, but Levi said he could not see how this relates to Pavilion Partners since it’s not operating an inn, nor does the law say that alcohol is banned “in the sand.”

Coxey said the law does reference, in a subsection, a current law that decrees alcohol on state-owned beaches is illegal and that the law specifically mentions Dunes Pavilion.

But there’s still another question Levi said, which was asked in many of the 114 letters he’s received -- who is going to be there to make sure alcohol doesn’t make it to the beach or that no one is over served?

“We would need to pay for (extra security),” Williams told him. “I’m responsible to maintain alcohol within the confines.”

The lease agreement contains a hold-harmless agreement for the DNR and Pavilion Partners is insured for up to $2 million, Williams said.

DNR Director speaks

There are three agencies that enforce the law on park premises -- County police, state conservation officers and excise police, said Cameron Clark, Director of the DNR.

Clark was given an affidavit by Coxey to give testimony, mainly to give insight on where in the state parks alcohol is allowed and why the DNR would benefit from the partnership. Also, to verify that Williams’ statements match with the DNR’s knowledge of the facts.

In all, there are seven inns within the state park system that are permitted by the DNR to sell alcohol, he said.

Alcohol was banned in 1990 from the Dunes State Park because of reported problems with gang members, Clark said, but he believes the park capacity has changed in 25 years.

Dunes State Park has since done away with 1,000 parking spaces, which helps “keep traffic flow under control,” Clark said.

The partnership with Pavilion Partners is desirable to the DNR because only 70 percent of the state park system is self-sustaining, Clark said. “When we get an opportunity to increase our revenues by gate entrance fees for an entire year that helps us fund other parks that are not self-sustaining.”

Clark said that the bad shape the Pavilion was in was “an embarrassment to the DNR,” with cracks in the pavement, leaks in the roof and out-of-date bathroom facilities.

The DNR sought a private/public partnership since it felt it could not fund rehabbing the pavilion, Clark said. Notice about the prospectus and RFP were not done in shadow, Clark said, in that at least five newspapers around the state had written about it.

Proposals submitted are considered based on “what kind of ingredients are in the proposal, rent and benefits to DNR,” said Clark.

The renovated pavilion would provide more revenue for the DNR through gate fees, he said.

Enforcement

Later in the meeting, the ABC asked Lt. Tom Torsell of the DNR’s law enforcement division in Michigan City to what degree the beach patrolled.

Torsell said his district contains seven counties which are served by 16 officers, two of which serve on weekends at Dunes State Park on a morning and evening shift.

As for the number of arrests made related to alcohol over recent years at the Dunes, Torsell didn’t give any hard figures and said “it’s a dynamic situation” because beach attendance fluctuates each year depending the weather.

DNR officers do not search coolers that guests bring to the beach unless there is probable cause, Torsell said.

 

Posted 9/11/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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