While some in the Beach are crying “Grinch!” at the relocation of the Beaches Lions Christmas tree lot from Kew Gardens to Woodbine Beach, city officials stand by the decision, noting that the move signifies a new way of doing business in Kew Gardens.
That new way means commercial business will be strongly discouraged in the Queen Street East park, with the newly refurbished grounds instead acting as a place that is open to the public at all times with opportunities for non-profit groups to apply to host small, local events in the park.
“We really don’t want any commercial permits at any point in that area,” said James Dann, City of Toronto’s waterfront parks manager.
The Lions Christmas Tree Sale, a fixture at Kew Gardens for 25 years that acts as a fundraiser but also as a commercial operation, does not fit parks management’s intention for the park, explained Dann.
“We just spent a substantial amount of money making sure that area was completely refurbished and we want it open to the public all of the time,” he said.
It also does not fit with the city’s intention to maintain the grounds and keep trucks and vehicles off of the new cobblestones, away from the cenotaph, and out of parks in general, he said. Loading and unloading trucks and having them on the park grounds is a major part of the tree lot’s operation.
“We’ve had issues in the past with trucks being right on the hard surface in Kew Gardens, which was just destroying the existing slate that was there,” he said.
“You just can’t have trucks on that space,” he said. “That’s something that was crucial to their operation. They tried to do it on Queen where it was just a no parking lane. It is something where that park itself is an extremely busy location and it doesn’t necessarily need the activation of a Christmas tree sale going on at that location.”
Dann said the parks department understood the history of the tree lot in the area and went beyond normal protocol to secure the lot a new location in the Beach that would provide them with a similar opportunity. The organizers of the tree lot said last week that the city and Dann had been particularly helpful in setting up the new location at Woodbine Beach.
“Had they not had the history of being in Kew Gardens, I would not be listening to someone saying to me that they want to sell Christmas trees in parks,” said Dann. “The fact that they do have a history and many Beachers, myself included, have purchased Christmas trees from them in the past … we said, ‘It’s done well, the community enjoys it, the community gets it, and we want to look at what we are going to be doing to still provide them with an opportunity to sell Christmas trees in the Beach, in the same ward.”
Woodbine Beach works because “there’s a big parking lot there, and/or pedestrian traffic with people walking along the boardwalk, which we certainly are encouraging people to do throughout the year,” he said.
Addressing local chatter that the move from Kew Gardens was in some way associated with Tuggs, the company which holds an exclusive lease to sponsorship and food and beverage rights on several Eastern Beach properties, Dann stressed that was “absolutely” not the case.
“This has nothing to do with George Foulidis (Tuggs’ owner).” he said. “He had absolutely nothing to do with it. This was a parks management operations decision.”
In fact, the rebuild of Kew Gardens means that the newly refurbished portion is no longer beholden to Tuggs’ lease, explained ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, speaking yesterday.
“Here’s the thing with the new refresh that I don’t think people realize yet,” said McMahon. “Because it’s considered a new build that means Tuggs does not have the right to that top of the park anymore.”
She said the Beach Village BIA, which is a non-profit, will now be able to start holding events by applying to the city directly.
Dann agreed that there will be opportunities for public use of the space.
“The councillor’s office is looking at opportunities for small local bands, it will be animated during the jazz festival, it will be activated potentially for buskers, it will be activated for a smaller-scale multi-use operation. It will be an animated place,” he said.
He said he knows people are upset about the tree lot’s move — some online are calling for a petition to stop it — but he thinks those feelings will pass once people visit the new location.
“I hope those people realize that having a completely beautiful refurbished Kew Gardens is something that’s important,” he said. “And as stewards of the public asset within parks, we do our best to manage all of the interests, not just people who have one specific interest.”