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Monday, January 25, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - Will GA do an end-around to revive the controversial Dunes pavilion liquor license effort?

The AP's Brian Slodysko has this long, must read story in several Indiana papers this morning - some quotes:

Indiana lawmakers are looking to breathe life into an embattled privatization deal that awarded a long-term lease to a well-connected Republican developer who wants to bring fine dining and a bar to the Indiana Dunes State Park, which conservationists have fought to keep free from commercial development for over a century.

Valparaiso businessman Chuck Williams hired a lobbying firm and is working with lawmakers to push a bill that would circumvent an October ruling by the state's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which upheld a local liquor board's decision to deny him an alcohol permit.

Williams said alcohol sales would be necessary to make it profitable for him to rehabilitate a dilapidated pavilion in the park nestled among the towering dunes that line Lake Michigan. His plan would include two beachfront restaurants, a rooftop bar, and a glass-walled banquet hall offering "the best view in Indiana."

The project by Williams' Pavilion Partners was opposed by local environmental activists and others who helped scuttle his bid for the alcohol permit. But GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma said he hopes Rep. Tom Dermody, who chairs the House policy committee, will find an equitable way to "bring the committee to 'Yes.'"

"There's a dilapidated building there that needs to be built up, and we need to support the program — whether it is Mr. Williams or somebody else," said Dermody, a LaPorte Republican.

The measure by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R- Shelbyville, would require the ATC to bypass local liquor control boards and issue an "economic development" alcohol permit for projects like Williams' and would retroactively apply to his pending application before the ATC, which is on appeal. A spokeswoman said Eberhart was not available to comment Friday.

This isn't the first time Williams has asked lawmakers for help. Alcohol was previously banned at the park — a prohibition Williams helped turn back with the assistance of northwest Indiana lawmakers, including his neighbor Rep. Ed Soliday, a Valparaiso Republican who in 2012 sponsored legislation allowing alcohol sales and consumption.

Williams donated nearly $1,200 for Soliday's get-out-the-vote efforts the following November, according to state records.

The effort by Williams to renovate the pavilion dates back to the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels.

For five years, Williams worked behind the scenes with state Department of Natural Resources officials, securing the decades-long privatization deal. But once the project was formally announced last March, it was engulfed in controversy amid accusations that Williams used political clout to get a sweetheart deal, working with the state long before the project went out to bid.

Williams, a state Republican Party official, 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.

From the Chesterton Tribune last week:
A group opposing an alcohol permit for a 24-hour gas station in Greenwood, Ind., has joined Dunes Action in opposing HB 1247, which as authored would allow alcohol retailers--for the sake of “economic development”--to circumvent local ABC oversight and proceedings.

The bill would also nullify many of the statutory grounds for rejecting permit applications.

“All Hoosiers need to be aware of House Bill 1247 and immediately contact their local legislators to urge them to stop this bill,” said Jim Sweeney of Dunes Action. “HB 1247 makes several changes that would eliminate local community involvement for some license applications throughout the state. It would also decrease (Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission’s) authority and eliminate moral character and reputation as factors when issuing beer and liquor licenses.”

Angela Stelljes, who represents a group in Greenwood opposed to the issuance of an alcohol permit to a 24-hour gas station, said that the legislation would impact her neighborhood and allow alcohol sales near local schools. “Realizing HB 1247 obliterates what little local voice we have for the sake of profits is astonishing,” she said.

Dunes Action, for its part, hopes to keep Pavilion Partners LLC from re-introducing alcohol at Indiana Dunes State Park beach, under a long-term lease with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources which provides for at least three points of liquor sales.

Nuvo's David Hoppe had this story on Jan. 18, with the heading "Sweetheart deals beat fixing state’s economy."

Amy Lavalley's Jan. 21st Gary Post-Tribune story includes:

Critics of a plan to allow alcohol sales at the Indiana Dunes State Park aren't happy with a bill before the Indiana House of Representatives that would eliminate hearings before county liquor boards for license applications for locations for "economic development purposes."

House Bill 1247, authored by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, and co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, comes just a few months after Pavilion Partners was denied a liquor license for the pavilion at Indiana State Park.

"We think it's over the top," Jim Sweeney, co-founder of the grassroots organization Dunes Action, said of Eberhart's bill. * * *

House Bill 1247, which would be retroactive to Jan. 1, would bypass county liquor boards; would prohibit the state board from considering the permit location in granting or denying a permit in many instances; eliminates the "good moral character and repute" requirement for a beer retailer; and repeals the "high and fine reputation" requirement for a liquor retailer's permit, among other measures.

Eberhart could not be reached for comment on the intent of the bill, but Sweeney said the bill's message is that local opinion doesn't matter in granting liquor licenses.

"I think the bill is a kick in the teeth for the ATC for turning that request down" for Pavilion Partners, he said. "Why on earth would the state not want the ATC to consider the reputation of the applicant?"

Reporter Lavalley's story also points to an earlier effort this session:
Senate Bill 188, proposed by Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, would have allowed the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to bypass local liquor boards and apply for licenses with the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. Merritt said earlier this month the focus of the bill was Fort Benjamin Harrison in his district; that bill has since been withdrawn.
Here is HB 1247. It appears the bill is not currently set for a hearing ...

The ILB has had a long list of posts on the Dunes pavilion project, dating back to 2006.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 25, 2016 08:35 AM
Posted to Indiana Government