INDIANAPOLIS | Supporters and opponents of a proposal to sell alcohol at a restored pavilion in Indiana Dunes State Park may get another chance to have their say.
The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission voted 4-0 on Tuesday to send the alcohol license application for Pavilion Partners LLC back to the Porter County Alcoholic Beverage Board for a second public hearing and board recommendation.
The local board deadlocked 2-2 following a June 11 public hearing where board members expressed frustration with the limited information they were provided and that only three residents commented on the proposal during the weekday morning meeting.
David Cook, chairman of the state alcohol licensing commission, said he's since received 264 letters and emails opposing the plan — many bemoaning the limited public notice and participation at the Porter County Board.
"I think it's extremely important that this permit, that has generated so much community interest, be properly vetted and everyone given notice and an opportunity to be heard," Cook said.
He insisted the state commission, which implements and generally endorses local alcohol board recommendations, was not trying to "dodge the bullet on a sensitive issue." Rather, Cook said the licensing system is designed for the commission to give deference to local boards.
In this case, he said the Porter County panel deserves a second chance to get their questions answered and to consider public comments, including those sent to the state commission.
Prior to the unanimous decision to remand, Commissioner Marjorie Maginn also identified numerous errors in Pavilion Partners' alcohol license application.
Specifically, she said the application ownership listing differed from the company's pavilion lease with the Department of Natural Resources, a food sales estimate was tallied incorrectly and boxes required to be initialed were left blank.
She added that letters of opposition she's received also questioned the need for alcohol at the pavilion and the reputation of Charles Williams, primary owner of Pavilion Partners.
Cook said he plans to send a letter to the Porter County alcohol board urging it hold another public hearing on a corrected alcohol license application at a convenient time for maximum community participation.
Indiana's DNR last year inked a contract with Pavilion Partners to restore the 1929-30 Lake Michigan beachfront facility and operate the pavilion.
Construction is underway on a new concession area and "comfort center" with restrooms, showers and family dressing rooms. Restaurants and a new banquet center to be built adjacent to the pavilion also are planned.
An informational meeting on the project hosted last week by region tourism officials touting the plan's expected $9 million annual economic impact filled Valparaiso's Memorial Opera House.