VALPARAISO | Despite being denied a restaurant liquor license for its operation at Indiana Dunes State Park, Pavilion Partners LLC officials still are holding out hope their beverage plan can be saved in Indianapolis.
Pavilion Partners spokeswoman Deb Butterfield said they appreciate the Porter County Alcoholic Beverage Board's decision in favor of the local community’s concerns, but they will continue to monitor the process at the state level.
"We were somewhat surprised by the outcome of the vote of the local alcohol board, as we felt we presented all the information that had been requested for clarification and demonstrated significant desire and support for the project," she said. "Pavilion Partners respects the position the local board members faced and look forward to a different outcome with the state board."
Following a meeting Thursday that lasted more than four hours, the local board voted 3-1 against the license. The vote is a recommendation that will go before the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission on Oct. 6.
Prior to the meeting, Indiana Department of Natural Resources Director Cameron Clark told The Times that by law, the local board's recommendation "shall be acted upon by the ATC."
David Cook, chairman of the state alcohol licensing commission, would not comment on the local board's vote, but set the October date to give the commission "plenty of time to review."
Cook said the commission has overturned local board recommendations.
"Each case is unique and will turn on its facts," he said.
A vote earlier this year ended in a tie. The state agency kicked the vote back to the county level.
Voting no Thursday night were local board members Ralph Levi, Edward Fritz and Rudy Sutton. Indiana State Excise Police representative Jamie Patrick voted yes.
Previously, Levi had cast a vote in favor of the request. He said he's done a lot of studying on the matter and the pavilion area is unique and an alcohol permit would cause an impact "beyond repair." He also said the neighborhood and community does not desire the service being offered by Pavilion Partners.
Fritz and Sutton both agreed the community is not behind the permit.
"The majority spoke and I'm a believer in the majority," Fritz said.
Patrick said the license presents a difficult choice because there's no real guidance on what the definition of community is.
"With this being a state park, I lean more toward the definition of this is a park for every resident," he said. "Going by that and what we heard from the DNR in support of it, I'm going to approve."
About 500 people packed the Porter County Expo Center for the meeting. The overwhelming majority were opposed to the alcohol permit, including Dunes Action, a grassroots group protesting the license and development Pavilion Partners wants to do in the park.
Dunes Action co-founder Desi Robertson submitted a petition with 1,175 signatures opposing the permit and said they appreciated the board’s decision in favor of the local community’s concerns and will continue to monitor the process at the state level.
"Opponents packed the hearing and scores of letters were sent to this board," she said. "That says it all."
Robertson said they also hope the vote signals the end of efforts by Pavilion Partners to build a banquet and conference center next to the pavilion.
Pavilion Partners principal Chuck Williams said a total of $5 million is being invested in the pavilion restoration and banquet center. He said designs for them should be available by the end of the month.