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Soccer extravaganza in limbo as lease holder tussles with council

Construction of an addition to expand the Boardwalk Pub continues May 18 2012 in the Beach area of Toronto. Located beside the Martin Goodman Trail off Lakeshore Boulevard just west of Woodbine Avenue, the cafe is situated in a very busy spot with no other, or very little, competition for patrons.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

If the operator of the Boardwalk Pub had his way, Woodbine Beach would be transformed for three weeks this summer into a temporary temple of soccer.

An artificial pitch would be laid over the sand. Sponsorship cabanas and bleachers would line the field. A pair of 9-by-16-foot television screens would be erected to show Euro Cup matches.

The purpose of all this would be to welcome the Premiership Academy, a non-profit British soccer school whose elite coaches and trainers have already bought plane tickets for a June 20-to-July 7 event they thought was a done deal.

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But the city has nixed the proposal, saying it isn't an appropriate use of a public beach, especially on Canada Day.

"This is the busiest weekend of the summer in the Beach," said Mary-Margaret McMahon, the local councillor. "For someone to just decide to slap down some Astroturf over a busy part of the beach and run some soccer extravaganza is not what the community would want."

The conflict over the Premiership Academy is the latest between the city and George Foulidis, owner of the Boardwalk Pub and holder of the lease rights to the entire Eastern Beaches.

The city in 2010 signed a sole-sourced 20-year extension to his lease, and it is preparing to do the same with a single leaseholder in the Western Beaches and High Park in 2016.

Its western partner, the Grenadier Group, has been called "brilliant people, very accommodating" by local Councillor Sarah Doucette. But there is some anxiety among councillors about leaving a single family in charge of all food sales in High Park and along the western waterfront from the Humber Bay bridge to just west of the Palais Royale.

"I am very wary of sole sourcing," Ms. Doucette said. "I think you're getting into difficult waters."

Indeed, the city's experience on the Eastern Beaches hasn't exactly been smooth sailing.

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In 2006, council voted in principle to extend its deal with Mr. Foulidis's company, Tuggs Inc., which has operated the Boardwalk Pub and two concession stands at Kew Gardens and D.D. Summerville Pool on city-owned beachfront land since 1986.

Bound by the vote to sole-source, city staff laboured for four years to reach a tentative deal with Mr. Foulidis – a deal with sweetened terms, including the right to limited sponsorship revenue on the Eastern Beaches and an annual rent of $200,000, or $50,000 less than Mr. Foulidis proposed at the time of the 2006 vote.

Council voted narrowly in favour of the new deal in May of 2010. Councillor Sandra Bussin, the original champion of Tuggs Inc., was soundly defeated in the municipal election six months later.

Mr. Foulidis is now suing Mayor Rob Ford for libel for calling the deal "corrupt."

He's also challenging at the Ontario Municipal Board the city's decision to charge Tuggs Inc. $55,861 in development charges for a 568-square-metre addition to his restaurant, which Ms. McMahon calls an unfinished "eyesore."

Mr. Foulidis, who has already paid the fee, argues he should be reimbursed because the city, not Tuggs, owns the addition.

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As for the delay in completing the addition, he blames the lengthy approval process. "We have been moving heaven and earth – more earth than heaven – to get this project under way," Mr. Foulidis said. "We are 24 hours on it."

Mr. Foulidis believes his acrimonious relationship with the city is behind the decision to block the Premiership Academy from Woodbine Beach.

If that's the case, he has offered to temporarily relinquish his lease rights, including $150,000 to $200,000 in sponsorship revenue, 15 per cent of which would have gone to the city if the event had proceeded as planned.

"No one can possibly say the community is against it," Mr. Foulidis said. "That would be insane, in my view."

But Ann Ulusoy, the bureaucrat in charge of the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department's leases, says the rejection is simply a matter of the proposal conflicting "with the intended use of parkland." As well, commercial special events aren't allowed in parks, she added.

Ms. Ulusoy said the city rejected the event in writing May 5.

Gary O'Hare, the commercial director of the Premiership Academy, said about 58 soccer teams have already expressed an interest in the program; the academy has taken preliminary registrations, but no money.

The organization has booked more than 500 hotel rooms, he added.

"We have booked flights and accommodation and we have a tournament plan written up by an elite performance analyst from the Premier League," Mr. O'Hare said by e-mail. "We are able to react very quickly this year and would prefer to deliver something rather than nothing so as not to let down the local community."

David Valente, the general manager of sales and social director for the rebranded "Boardwalk Place," said he's still hopeful the Toronto event can be salvaged.

He stressed the event would be open to the public, with spectators welcome to fill the bleachers to watch Euro Cup matches on the big screen or fireworks on Canada Day.

"We're looking to play soccer," he said, "not politics."



Ever wonder why there's a fenced-off castle on the south side of Lakeshore Boulevard West near Ellis Avenue?

It's the last of the old Joy Oil stations, and its fate is intrinsically linked to the future of food and beverage sales in the Western Beaches and High Park.

Right now, the Grenadier Group, a family business headed by Sam Caragianakos, has the exclusive rights to sell food in both areas until May 9, 2016.

The company operates the Sunnyside Pavilion and the Royal Burger on the water and the All Star and Grenadier cafés in High Park.

In 2007, the city spent nearly $400,000 to spruce up and relocate one of Toronto's Depression-era Joy Oil stations from the north side of Lake Shore to the south, where it has sat, unused, ever since.

The city approached Grenadier about transforming it into a snack bar.

Grenadier countered with an unsolicited offer: Extend our deals to 2031 and we'll pay higher base rent and spend a minimum of $4.5-million improving our leased sites, including building a new, year-round restaurant linked to the Joy Oil station, which would serve as a seating area and tourist kiosk.

The long contract extension is necessary so the Grenadier Group can recoup its investment in facilities ultimately owned by the city, said Antonio Gomez-Palacio of the Dialog Group, an urban planning firm representing Grenadier.

Council (including then-councillor Rob Ford) voted narrowly in 2010 to extend Grenadier's leases without seeking competitive bids, on the condition a third-party business consultant signed off on the terms. The city finally hired that consultant company this month.

"The fact that it's taken a year and a half for the city to hire a consultant to review the business plan is certainly longer than what I had hoped," Mr. Gomez-Palacio said.

Meanwhile, Grenadier's plans to improve its sites – including the Joy Oil station and play areas, splash pads and gazebos in Sir Casimir Gzowski Park – are stuck in limbo.

- Kelly Grant

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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