Culver park board nixes beer tasting event, hires programming director

The Culver park board's vote as to whether to allow a beer tasting event in the town park came down to an even 50-50 split, but the lack of a majority of favorable votes equaled a "no."

The decision came after lengthy -- and sometimes heated -- discussion between representatives of the proposed event, Evil Czech Brewery owner George Pesek and brewery manager Shawn Erikson, and the park board and audience.

Culver's town council had already given its approval to the May 5 event, pending approval by the park board, whose members entertained discussion of it at the park board's regular, Feb. 7 meeting. The board consisted of just four members pending formal approval of its library board liaison, and at park board member Tammy Shaffer's suggestion, the park board opened the meeting by voting to reorganize at its next meeting, when its fifth member would presumably be present.

Arguments against the beer festival, which was proposed for the fenced-in eastern section of the park, centered largely on the standing ordinance against alcoholic beverages in the park. Pesek, however, noted a similar ordinance barring outside vendors has been made a routine exception for the Lake Fest each year for decades.

"We don't allow vendors in the park, yet you bring these gypsies here -- carnival types -- during the busiest time of the year (for Lake Fest)," he said. "They get special permits to operate in the park and they take business from local vendors."

Board member Kathy Hart noted the event would prevent children from using playground equipment on that end of the park, though audience member Kathy Clark noted the event is slated for four hours, only one day of the year. Pesek pointed out the beer fest would take place prior to the park's busiest season, which starts Memorial Day, and before the beach lodge is even open for the season.

He explained the site was chosen partly because it showcases the beach and lake, but partly for the pre-existing fencing there, which would enhance organizers' ability to maintain security.

"We don't want (festival-goers) to walk on the streets and cross the roads," Pesek explained. "Security will be provided, and everyone will get a wrist band. They leave without a beverage so there's no glass; we will use plastic cups, and there's no smoking."

Pesek said organizers would provide three portable restrooms, and it was hoped some 200 to 300 people would attend.

"We believe this would greatly benefit the town of Culver, especially the businesses," he added. "It would be an annual event, and it would bring great revenue to other businesses and nonprofits that are helping."

Local restaurants and other businesses would be invited to sell at the event, Pesek said, and local nonprofits could share in the proceeds from the $35 entrance fee ($45 for "V.I.P."s who wish to arrive earlier). He also noted organizers would be glad to pay a lease fee to the park for use of the area.

Pesek and Erikson emphasized the event is a tasting to sample regionally produced craft beers, not a "beer bash." Evil Czech Brewery, they said, has gained a positive reputation at similar events around the state as coming from the smallest town in the United States to have its own brewery.

Audience member Sue McInturff, owner of the Diva gift shop in Culver, said, "We (retail merchants) struggle with how to break even, except in June through August, so we're always looking for opportunities to bring people to town. It's a struggle to stay open in a business when you only have your peak season."

McInturff cited last year's first annual Culver Wine Fair as a comparable event and noted it was "a huge success; it brought in revenue and people, and it was under control."

Dusty Henricks, representing the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver, one of the named financial beneficiaries of the event, said the AHS is "very supportive of Tammy and George getting this going; we're willing to do whatever it takes."

Audience member Bill Cleavenger asked how the event will benefit the residents of Culver and Union Township.

"If the business community thrives in town, obviously everybody benefits," Pesek replied. "Nobody benefits from a town with empty store fronts."

Many in the audience, as well as board members Bean and Ed Behnke, said they were in favor of the festival itself, but weren't comfortable with it taking place in the park.

"I see it as a great idea somewhere else," said audience member Jean Rakich, who remarked that she worked at last year's wine fair, which was "beautifully handled.

"I agree that we're starting something (if the beer festival is approved) that we can't control," she added.

Audience member Rhonda Reinhold, noting she's familiar with the success of a similar beer tasting event in Valparaiso, described the success that event has brought to merchants and the community there.

"If (the sponsoring entity is) somebody that has a business in Culver, that's how you keep it from opening a can of worms,” she said. “We have to get behind growing -- we've been doing things the same old way a long, long time...we have to sometimes change our way of thinking in order to make things the best they can be."

In the end, board members Shaffer and Hart voted in favor of allowing the event, with Bean and Behnke voting against it, effectively voting down the event.

Pesek said organizers have no plans to move forward with the event in another location or at another time.

In other discussion, the board approved hiring new park programming director Donna McKee, at the recommendation of park superintendent Kelly Young, who said McKee will develop and expand park programming throughout the year.

Young said the hiring is one of the park's goals for 2013, which also include hiring a competent summer staff, completion and submission of a five-year master plan, the public fishing pier project, participation in the town's comprehensive plan, cooperation with local nonprofits, continue park maintenance projects, build a new storage facility to house maintenance equipment, and conduct good public relations within the community.

Young, in reply to audience queries, noted building a new restroom on the west end of the park is part of the park's longer-term master plan, and requires building the aforementioned storage facility first.
The board approved the goals.

Young also noted a laptop has been purchased for the park, which McKee will also use.

The board approved the park superintendent job description as written by town manager Dave Schoeff.

The board also approved the top ten project ideas for the park, as developed -- according to Young -- from last year's survey of park patrons, as well as board members, citizen input, employee ideas, and Young herself. These included building a storage unit for park equipment, investigating and implementing ideas for a public restroom on the west side of the park, upgrading the meeting room facility in the beach lodge, repairing and painting the west pavilion, replacing the railing at the boat dock steps with stone work on each side, replacing bathroom flooring on the beach lodge's ground floor, installing handicapped accessible walkways to the east and west end pavilions, replacing the courtesy pier, adding curbing and drainage to improve erosion issues at the beach, and purchase and installation of more picnic tables and benches at the park.

Also board approved was fabrication of several specialty steel benches by Tim Yuhas of Culver, for the public fishing pier in the park, at a total cost of $4,200. The board also approved the color scheme for the benches, which Yuhas said he will likely have completed (though the benches will be installed by another entity at a later date) in about three weeks.

The board agreed to table the purchase of equipment towards a skating rink, proposed for installation during winter months at the park's basketball courts.

Young said she spoke with the town's insurance carrier following a request for the rink by several residents at a park board meeting last year. Young said pickup hockey games would have to be disallowed, supervision facilitated for particular events, and signs posted, according to the insurance company, for liability reasons.

Park-sponsored skating on the lake is disallowed for the same reason, Young said.

Young suggested it might not be wise to purchase the rink equipment, which includes a base and outer walls, this late in the season, and suggested the board revisit the matter this fall. She also suggested soliciting sponsorship from the community towards purchase of the equipment.

The superintendent also noted the park's annual Easter egg hunt is slated for Sat., March 23 at 10 a.m., with a rain date of March 30.