It all appeared to be going well and the community would see a top soccer academy affiliated with the English Premiership come to Woodbine Beach.
Then, it seems, politics got in the way.
Boardwalk Pub’s George Foulidis and the restaurant’s General Manager of Sales, David Valente, were first contacted by Premiership Academy, a British organization that sets up soccer camps across the globe, in January of this year.
The idea was to bring the Premier League-affiliated group to Woodbine Beach where a temporary soccer pitch would be built from June 20 to July 7. The soccer camp was to coincide with the Euro 2012 tournament. Tournaments were also planned for the venue, with up to 60 teams from Ontario, Quebec, and United Kingdom to attend.
“The plan was to have their soccer program exposed to the community, the GTA, and in fact to Ontario,” said Valente.
According to drawings in the official proposal, an artificial turf field would be put in place southeast of the bathing station. Three giant screens would also be erected for the beach crowds to watch Euro 2012 matches. One of the screens would face south for the view of bathers and even boaters.
Stands for the venue would be five rows high and would accommodate approximately 1,500 people. They would also be open to the public on Canada Day to watch the fireworks display.
“The planning of the site map was done with the Parks department,” said Valente, who claims the Parks department was initially on board with the idea and said he received constant positive feedback from them.
“We didn’t unilaterally design this. We have had site visits and consultations [with Parks],” said Foulidis.
The proposal was first presented to the City of Toronto Parks and Recreation on April 10. After a series of ‘back-and-forth’ emails, an official meeting took place on April 30.
In the week beginning May 7, Valente was informed by City officials that the plans were declined because they went against a city policy, which was not specified to him.
Ann Ulusoy, Director, Management Services at Parks, Forestry and Recreation at the City of Toronto says the reason the event and venue construction is not permitted is because it does not conform with the intent of the use of park land.
“This is a public beach, and putting the turf on the public beach would take space and exclude public use of the beach,” said Ulusoy. “June and Canada Day is a high demand period.”
Also, since Premiership Academy operates on a for-profit basis, Ulusoy says it falls outside of the City’s scope of special event permitting.
Foulidis insists there is no policy in place, and that the City is making decisions based on politics and tensions generated over a recent incident that had Foulidis try to recoup development fees for the addition to his restaurant.
“Officials of the Premiership Academy in England were told by the City that the event could take place, just not in this location,” said Foulidis.
Ulusoy says the event, in its current for-profit structure, cannot take place on any City-owned property.
“It is still for-profit, and even if the Premiership Academy changed its event to not-for-profit, where they wouldn’t be charging kids, we would still be having a hard time finding a soccer field suitable for them in a different part of the city. All our sports fields permits are out and all the fields are booked,” said Ulusoy.
Premiership Academy’s Gary O’Hare said in an email to Beach Metro News that the academy has invested “significant time, man hours, sponsorship commitment, staff, logistics, flights, hotel bookings for staff, [and] 500 reserved hotel rooms for teams.”
He said that the Premiership Academy is at the mercy of key stake holders in a community and it must work with all those involved.
“The City [of Toronto] has offered to work with us on other venues and have simply expressed a concern that the event may not be best suited to that location, and we have to respect that decision,” he wrote.
As of May 22, the Premiership Academy website continues to list the June 20 event in Toronto and is accepting registrations.
Sponsorship money in the amount of $150,000 to $200,000 has also been secured for the event according to Valente.
“The City of Toronto, according to our contract with them, would receive 15 per cent of that revenue,” said Valente.
O’Hare indicated that he was led to believe that the project was going ahead and that Boardwalk Cafe had met with the City throughout the development process.
He was then told by City officials that the event would not be supported by the community.
Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon was informed of the plans on the week of May 7, the same week the plans were declined.
“It appears [Foulidis] has entered into a contract with [Premiership Academy] without prior permission from the City,” said McMahon.
“Parks are to be accessible to all and it doesn’t conform to parks use,” said McMahon, affirming that there is no chance of the soccer event happening at Woodbine Beach.
“I have a problem with it closing off our beach for an exclusive use any time, let alone on the busiest time of the summer for three weeks,” said McMahon.
Foulidis and Valente feel very confident that the event would benefit the community, bringing a world class organization to a local beach, and would generate local business dollars.
McMahon disagreed, and said “I don’t think the community would like this. And logistically, how is he going to put astro turf on the sand?” she asked.
Foulidis, meanwhile, has offered to step away from the entire deal if politics are the issue.
“We don’t have to be there. If [O’Hare] approaches the city and it was all about us and the issues, I’ll step out,” said Foulidis. “I’ll help out where I can.”
“I do sympathize with the cause of the Boardwalk Place and its staff as they have invested significant time, energy and money into this project for it to fall at the final hurdle,” said O’Hare, who added that the terms of the agreement between the restaurant and the City seem to be a discussion point.
Ulusoy maintains that the issue is not with Foulidis, but rather with the nature of building a sports facility and running a soccer camp on a public beach.
“Between the scope, duration, and the nature it doesn’t matter if it’s through Mr. Foulidis or someone else or some other provider. It’s just the event itself [that’s problematic],” said Ulusoy.
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Another cheeky money grabbing scheme from those lovely people who are building an eyesore of a building and commercialising city parkland, fortunately this one has been sunk. Don’t believe the sob story about booked hotel rooms and flights – that’s obviously nonsense. There is no premiership affiliation either. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sick of all the pop-up junk food vending that appears at weekends and the ugly sign that has appeared south of Lakeshore Boulevard.
An absolutely amazing event for the city from a well authorised and well credited organization. The Premiership Academy is a NON PROFIT organization that is established to promote soccer throughout various regions. I don’t think there is any “sob story” just a simple statement of facts……how else would they get staff from the UK and accommodate them if they had not booked flights and hotels ?
As for there being no official affiliation, I have personally witnessed the programmes elsewhere and can verify that all coaching staff work within the Premier League in the UK.
As for the “junk food” element, I can also testify that the promotion of healthy food is paramount to the camps and if parkland is “for all” how can you exclude soccer players ?
I find it a strange coincidence that both Jan & Mary margret mcmahon both find the new building to be ” an eyesore ” .Poor Jan and I’m sure MMM dont seem to mind the 5 trailer signs between Coxwell & Woodbine avenues that are adverising commercial events on the beach and in the parks .Typical !