Indiana Dunes Pavilion Plans Need Federal Historic Review
Commercial Makeover of Historic Pavilion Merits Public Airing and Comment
Washington, DC — Plans to add terraces, balconies, and a rooftop bar to the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion may violate the National Historic Preservation Act, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Dunes Action. The groups are asking for a formal review to examine whether extensive commercial modifications will damage the historic character of the nearly 90-year-old Pavilion, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“The public has never had the opportunity to learn precisely what changes are planned for the Pavilion, let alone to comment on them,” said Norman Hellmers of Dunes Action, who is awaiting responses to requests for records from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “The DNR is acting more like a silent business partner than a public agency charged with protecting our state park.”
The groups are asking the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Indiana State Historic Preservation Officer to undertake a formal consultation on the project, including public notice and opportunities for comments. The law addresses impacts to the physical building itself as well as its visual integrity. The Pavilion is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Press accounts and available documents describe plans to install an 1800-square-foot rooftop bar with seating for as many as 200; two balconies on the second floor of the north (Lake Michigan) side; and, outdoor dining terraces beneath the balconies. All of these would be visually jarring additions to the old Pavilion. There is also a proposal for a banquet and conference center to be built adjoining the Pavilion. Over 10,000 people have signed petitions in opposition to these plans.
Because Indiana Dunes State Park and its Pavilion were developed with grants from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the National Park Service (NPS) must ensure that the property meets LWCF requirements, including that it not be converted to uses other than public outdoor recreation.
In a letter dated September 20, 2017, an NPS official wrote PEER that the NPS had determined that the uses of the Pavilion as described by the DNR complied with the LWCF, and therefore “work on the pavilion can proceed.” The NPS admitted it “had not seen any documentation” about planned uses but appears to have given its sign-off for Pavilion reconstruction.
“The central concern is that the Pavilion will be turned into an unsightly, garishly lit, loud, commercial complex, destroying both its historical character and its charm,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Both the taxpayers of Indiana and the entire U.S. want to see that our shared public investment in this treasured place is not trashed.”