INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A stalled privatization deal could be back on track
after an Indiana House committee unanimously approved a bill that could
allow a Republican Party official and land developer to sell alcohol at a
restaurant, bar and banquet center he hopes to build at Indiana Dunes
The House Public
Policy Committee backed the bill by Rep. Sean Eberhart, a Shelbyville
Republican, which would require the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission
to issue a liquor sales permit requested by the Department of Natural
Resources for vendors located in state parks.
That could allow
Valparaiso businessman Chuck Williams of Pavilion Partners to move forward
with a plan to rehabilitate a dilapidated pavilion in the park, a project
that would include two beachfront restaurants, a rooftop bar, and a
glass-walled banquet hall offering "the best view in Indiana."
Williams has said
alcohol sales are necessary to be profitable, but last October the ATC
agreed with a local liquor board's decision to deny him an alcohol permit,
a matter now on appeal. Local environmental activists helped scuttle the
permit because they believe his contract with the state, which could last
decades, is a sell-off of public land that should be free of commercials
Williams has said
the refusal of a liquor permit will break the contract, likely requiring
the state to reimburse him.
"Would it address
that issue? It could," Eberhart said. "If the (DNR) decides to apply for a
liquor permit for the Dunes, then it could impact what happened there."
In a statement,
DNR spokesman Marty Benson said the agency "supports the bill as drafted"
because "it would allow us to control the consumption and service of
alcohol on our park properties." But the DNR declined to say if they would
ultimately seek a permit for the Dunes project.
pushing the bill and, according to state records, has hired the firm
Barnes and Thornburg to lobby on issues including alcohol, natural
resources, real estate and state government.
issued Thursday by Pavilion Partners did not spell-out future plans and
instead lashed out at opponents for presenting "false information to
legislators and liquor boards."
The effort by
Williams to renovate the pavilion dates back to the administration of Gov.
Emails show that
Williams pitched the idea and worked with the DNR on a proposal long
before it went out to public bid and years before a formal public hearing
was held on the project. The only competing offer came from a nonprofit
group of local conservationists, lawyers and finance professionals.
the project was formally announced last March, opponents of the project
accused Williams of using political clout to get a sweetheart deal,
working with the state before the project went out to bid.
regional GOP chairman, has denied that his political connections played a
role, and the Indiana DNR says it followed state and federal laws and did
not give Williams preferential treatment. Recently updated state records
show that Williams has contributed about $175,000 in office space and cash
donations to GOP causes, a correction to previous state figures that
indicated he had given nearly twice that amount.
figures submitted to the DNR by Williams suggested the project is expected
to turn a $141,000 profit — a figure projected to climb to nearly $500,000
in a decade.
In return, the
DNR will get 2 percent of the company's annual revenues and $18,000 a year
in rent for the property, which state parks Director Dan Bortner described
as having a "million dollar smile," according to state records.