GARY – The new amenities at the pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park are scheduled to open in some fashion for Memorial Day weekend as the most controversial part of the project, an adjacent banquet center, has been dropped.
The separate banquet and event center, which was to be constructed on a concrete pad east of the pavilion once the work at the pavilion was complete, is no longer being planned.
“I would just say at this point, today, there’s been no forward movement on that event center,” said Tom Collins, vice president of the Hobart-based Luke Family of Brands, noting the state of the event industry after the pandemic. “There’s no plan to move forward on that at this point and I don’t know where we would go to get financing on that right now.”
The project, announced more than six years ago and instantly beset with controversy over the proposed banquet center and plans to sell liquor at both facilities, has gone through an assortment of twists and turns over the years, from a change in state law to allow liquor sales there after local and state liquor boards voted against it, to concerns about the way in which the pavilion, constructed around 1930, was being restored, and finally, the COVID-19 pandemic, which stalled projects across the country and decimated the event industry.
Dunes Action is a local grassroots organization started up shortly after plans for the project were first announced. Leaders of the group consistently have said they opposed the banquet center and not a renovation of the pavilion, though they wanted that done in keeping with historic preservation.
“Once it’s been confirmed to us that there’s not going to be a second building, Dunes Action will probably prepare a news release that says, ‘Job accomplished!’ That was our primary concern,” said Jim Sweeney, co-founder of Dunes Action.
The organization has gotten no response to its formal correspondence to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources about the project for two years, he added. The DNR is in a public/private partnership with Pavilion Partners, led by Valparaiso business owner Chuck Williams, for the project.
Dunes Action is still concerned about liquor consumption along the busy beach.
“We will be watching and we will hold DNR and Pavilion Partners accountable immediately if there are any problems,” he said. “That said, I think what they’ve done to the exterior looks nice.”
Dropping plans for the banquet center “is a big win for us,” Sweeney said, adding if officials are serious about watching their customers and their liquor consumption, “we’ll be a happy bunch of dune huggers.”
The pavilion, said Collins, whose company started on the project as the general contractor and is now a partner and will be the operator, is opening in stages. A general store, ice cream concessions and a lifeguard office hopefully will open by Memorial Day. A restaurant on the ground floor and a rooftop restaurant and bar are scheduled to open in mid-June, with an event space on the second floor ready by Sept. 1.
“We are excited for the upcoming opening of the pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park,” said J.B. Brindle, director of the division of communications for the DNR in an email. “The facility will greatly enhance the recreation experience for all Hoosiers and guests this summer and well into the future.”
Portage-based Dari Dip, which has provided ice cream and other snacks at the beach from a trailer for the past three years, will be the vendor for the ice cream though Luke Family of Brands, which also owns County Line Orchard in Hobart and Another Round Pizza in Portage, will run the general store and other restaurants.
A retractable roof enclosure for the rooftop bar and restaurant is still planned, Collins said, but will not be installed until after this season.
Hiring is underway for around 80 people to work at the pavilion.
This article was made available by Hoosier State Press Association.