By SUE-ANN LEVY, City Hall Columnist
Last Updated: May 23, 2010 9:47am
We couldn’t have picked a better day last Wednesday when my wife Denise and I decided to do lunch at the Boardwalk Cafe — the Beaches institution that has been the subject of tremendous controversy over a 20-year deal now being inked with City Hall.
The panorama of Lake Ontario, the Eastern Beaches and Woodbine Park — from our prime seat on the restaurant’s patio — was spectacular.
I wish I could say the same for the pub itself.
The patio was chock full of as many weeds as customers. Our picnic-style metal seats and table, the kind McDonald’s used in the 1970s, were situated near a wood railing that looked like it was about to crumble any minute.
The entire restaurant — seedy and dirty — was in desperate need of a paint job. In the ladies washroom, we found feces on the floor of one of the stalls.
In the front we noticed loose electrical wiring popping up from a pipe, broken windows and a pair of dirty socks lying near the front door.
It appeared that a building inspector hadn’t been near the place in ages.
On the patio, most people were drinking rather than eating lunch.
Small wonder Denise and I didn’t enjoy our meal at all.
My $15 salad was bland and soaked in dressing that tasted like mayonnaise. Denise’s $17 pad Thai dish — allegedly one of the house specialities — was drowning in oil.
Our lunch — including two Diet Cokes — came to $46.82 with tax and tip.
It made the slice of pizza from the Pizza Pizza kiosk that operates out of the side of the cafe look good.
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This restaurant and the prime beachfront property surrounding it is the food and beverage domain of Tuggs Inc., owned by George Foulidis — the man some critics call the King of the Eastern Beaches.
It was exactly 24 years ago today that the city first signed an agreement with Foulidis, giving him the exclusive right to sell food and beverages at the Boardwalk Cafe in Woodbine Beach park and at two seasonal concessions in the Eastern Beaches — D.D. Summerville Pool and Kew Gardens.
In exchange he spent $2.7 million building the restaurant and related concessions.
After two renewals, his lease was set to expire in September 2007.
When he came forward with an unsolicited proposal in August 2006 asking for another 20 years on his lease, city officials proposed going to a request for proposals to solicit the kind of competitive bids that would ensure a fair and transparent process.
But council, led by the ward Councillor Sandra Bussin, overruled the staff recommendations and parks officials were directed in February 2007 to negotiate a sole-source deal with Foulidis.
They came back suddenly late last month indicating that after three years of negotiation the only deal they were able to work out would see Foulidis paying $1 million less in rent — some $4.75 million compared to the $5.75 million proposed by him in April 2007 — and only $340,000 in sponsorship revenue compared to the $750,000 he’d offered in his original proposal. This would occur over the 20-year term of the lease, which is to end in 2028.
For this, he would get exclusive rights to sell liquor in Ashbridge’s Bay in addition to Woodbine Park, as well as a monopoly on beverage and food sales at Kew Beach, nearby Balmy Beach and D.D. Summerville pool.
But there’s more.
In this new deal, he’ll also be allowed to sell souvenirs and other non-food items in the entire Eastern Beaches and bring in mobile vending trucks selling ice cream treats whenever he so chooses.
Doug McDonald, manager of business services with parks and recreation, said one of the reasons the negotiations have been so protracted is because Foulidis wanted to have “ownership of everything that happened” in the Eastern Beaches.
He insists Foulidis will have to run his sponsorship ideas by city officials and that there won’t be beer or cigarette advertising on those parklands.
“We don’t want him to have final say in everything that goes on in the public realm,” McDonald said, noting the final deal will likely be signed in the next two weeks.
But Beaches resident Chris Yaccato, who’s led a citizens’ group against the deal, says it puts Foulidis in control of everything that happens for about a 5-km stretch of the Eastern Beach — even to the point of dictating whether fundraising groups have to use his services.
He, like many other Beaches residents, can’t understand how the mayor and city officials — who continually talk a good game about making the waterfront clean and beautiful — can turn such prime parkland over carte blanche to someone whom he feels is simply in it to make money.
“This is prime real estate,” he says. “It is such a missed opportunity.”
Keith Begley, another Beaches resident, is upset that this new deal will allow Foulidis to set up souvenir shacks on the Beaches.
“It’s going to look like Coney Island,” he said. “He’s had huge preferential treatment and no one in the Beaches has had any say.”
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When first approached at his restaurant last Wednesday, Foulidis flatly refused to comment, saying he’d been advised by his lawyer not to talk.
A collection of hangers-on glared as we took photos and followed us as we continued along the boardwalk to tour some of the other concessions — including a vending truck operated by a man named Gus.
When Foulidis finally agreed to chat and we returned to the restaurant, a man identifying himself as Nick endeavoured to run interference before we were finally shown to a table.
Foulidis argues that he’s been “wrongfully accused” by those trying to turn his deal into a “political football” and insists he’s done nothing “untoward.”
He says that the statements about him paying $1 million less over the 20-year term have been blown “out of context” — that the city will be getting more money from a “new sponsorship model” that didn’t previously exist to them.
His said his plan is to assign a team of employees to find big corporate sponsors like Molson to back events on the Beaches (sponsors that would then give him and the city a cut of the action).
Foulidis also contends that all this talk about his “monopoly” is “hogwash” and that already this year, he’s waived his exclusive rights to sell food and beverages for a half-dozen events.
“I don’t have a monopoly,” he contends. “The city doesn’t want two restaurants here.”
As for the decrepit state of his restaurant, he says he didn’t want to fix up the place until the lease is signed. But once it is, he says he will be spending $2.1 million refurbishing and expanding the restaurant and fixing up the concessions at D.D. Summerville pool and Kew Gardens (where a patio will also be installed).
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Sandra Bussin was in her element at her Victory in 2010 Campaign Party at trendy Sauvignon restaurant last Tuesday night.
The wine and fancy hors d’oeuvres were flowing, a string ensemble provided the background music and her inner circle of leftist pals were all there to fete her.
Councillors Paula Fletcher, Shelley Carroll, Raymond Cho, Anthony Perruzza, Joe Pantalone, Howard Moscoe, Adam Giambrone and Maria Augimeri rubbed shoulders with the likes of MPPs Peter Tabuns and Michael Prue.
Across the street, a handful of protesters brandished signs that read: “It’s Our Park. It’s Not for Sale” — among other slogans.
Leroy St. Germaine — the Beaches senior who’s the subject of a taxpayer-funded lawsuit by Bussin for daring to criticize her in his Ward 31 and 32 newsletters — said he has no doubt the Tuggs deal should be revisited and put to a vote by all of council.
Bussin was conspicuously absent from the May 12 council meeting — as were 16 other councillors and the mayor — when the controversial Tuggs Inc. contract finally came up for discussion at 7:55 p.m., narrowly passing 15-13.
She was, however, in the council chamber and voted to pursue the Tuggs Inc. unsolicited proposal in September 2006. That time, it passed 24-8.
Despite numerous efforts to reach her before press time, Bussin repeatedly refused requests for an interview.
She did leave a voicemail indicating that she “chose not to participate” in the council meeting that night because of the “shenanigans” that were going on in her ward around this issue.
She also contended that one of her concerns — when she first promoted the deal with Foulidis in 2006 — was that the Docks was “very interested” in the site and would in “all likelihood outbid” the “family business” operated by Tuggs.
Nevertheless at council May 12, it was left to Bussin’s pal Fletcher to lead the charge. As her voice grew more outraged by the moment, Fletcher insisted there was “nothing untoward” with the deal and that the “spurious things” being said about it (and the councillor involved) are “disgusting.”
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Former Toronto cop and licensed private investigator Bert O’Mara of Mosaic Investigations was hired by a client in the ward in 2007 to look into Sandra Bussin’s 2006 election contributions.
His detailed 147-page report shows the councillor who paints herself as “unstoppable” received a total of $8,250 (representing 18% of her total 2006 donations) from what were then friends, family members, officers of Foulidis’ company and his employees.
“The document speaks for itself,” O’Mara said late last week.
When contacted about the report, Bussin left a second message blaming St. Germaine, indicating he’s a “Fagin-type character” who’s being financed by some developers in the ward to “discredit” her.
“I will not discuss this any further … I am suing this individual and it is in the courts.”
At first Foulidis called the allegations a “witchhunt” and threatened “serious consequences” to those he says are slandering his business.
When pressed, he said that perhaps certain members of his family and friends contributed to Bussin’s campaign in 2006 and if they did, he’s “proud” that they did.
He added that he’s so angry about the allegations, he plans to “encourage” his friends and family to contribute to Bussin’s campaign again this year.
“If she’s willing to accept them, I’m proud of it,” Foulidis said. “She’s done a good job … she has integrity.”
Yaccato feels quite differently.
“I see this deal as poor for the city and poor for taxpayers,” he said. “There should be a full public audit.”