There’s been so much hoopla over what Gov. Pence considers Indiana’s hard won freedom to discriminate that paying attention to other issues in this latest legislative session has been tricky.
But, as we know, that doesn’t mean our state’s lawmakers aren’t busy. In Northwest Indiana, for example, folks have become aware of efforts in both the House and Senate (HB1247, SB188) that would require the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to issue three-way liquor permits for use in state parks, regardless of rulings by local Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) boards or public protest.
This strikes a nerve up north because people there have been battling a plan by a development group called Pavilion Partners to build a new “conference and banquet center” on the beach beside the historic Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion.
There are a lot of reasons to dislike Pavilion Partners’ plan. In the first place, preliminary designs look architecturally awful. That should be bad enough, but it appears the new building could pose a real hazard to flocks of migrating birds that fly down the lake every year.
Also among the project’s negatives — for some people, anyway — has been the developers’ expressed intention to make booze available in the park.
This last point inspired hundreds of protestors to assemble at a local ABC hearing last year. People in Northwest Indiana really care about their state park, and they showed it by showing up. This fact was not lost on the local ABC, which voted 3-1 to deny the proposed permit. This denial was then upheld by the state commission, and is now being appealed by Pavilion Partners, who claim their business model depends on being able to sell alcoholic beverages.
This, you see, is what is called a public-private partnership. On the surface it looks sensible because the parks don’t get enough funding to be able to do basic things, like maintain that historic pavilion in Dunes State Park.
So a deal is struck with a developer who agrees to renovate the existing structure and even build a new one, provided they make a profit. The park gets a new facility and (small) cut of the action, the developer gets a shiny new moneymaker in one the state’s most popular destinations. Everybody wins, right?
But what if, instead of enhancing the park, the new development changes the park’s character? That’s what those hundreds of protestors are afraid of. And Pavilion Partners has done nothing to allay their concerns.
Which explains why the new bills in the Statehouse aimed at eliminating local control over liquor permits looks like a handy way to get Pavilion Partners what it wants. That the head of this development group, Chuck Williams, is a Republican mover and shaker only adds to an already odiferous situation.
The real shame here is that none of this intrigue would be happening if our state parks were properly funded. The notion that they need to become profit centers to support themselves is a false premise.
But then making sweetheart deals is easier than actually trying to fix this state’s economy — especially when no one’s paying attention.