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Council to rehash debate over Beaches contract

The Boardwalk Pub restaurant in the Beaches.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Councillors and onlookers at next week's council meeting may get a sneaking sense of déjà vu: Barely a month after approving a far-ranging contract extension for the Beaches concession in a late-evening vote, council will get another chance to debate its two-decade deal with Tuggs Inc.

The company, which has run the Boardwalk Pub since 1986, got an extension through 2028 when council approved a new contract May 12. In addition to its previous right to beachfront concessions, the extended contract also grants Tuggs the exclusive right to vend boardwalk merchandise and sell alcohol at Ashbridge's Bay Park.

The vote passed 15-12 in the late evening, with the mayor and 17 of 44 councillors absent. But Frances Nunziata, one of the councillors who voted in favour, says she would have done otherwise if she'd had more time to think about it.

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Councillors who voted in favour of the contract, which was several years in the making, point to the success Tuggs owner George Foulidis has had with the Boardwalk Pub and other concessions. This is an example of local entrepreneurship that the city needs to encourage, they argue.

Ms. Nunziata has put forward motions to reopen the debate altogether, and to request an audit of the entire process, going back three years to when the city decided not to put out a formal request for proposals when the original contract was set to expire in 2007.

"If it was done earlier in the day when we had more people debating and [were]able to ask questions, I don't think this decision would have been made," she said, adding that she has since received information she "wasn't aware of at the time."

There should have been an open bidding process, Ms. Nunziata said, adding that she thinks a 20-year contract is too long.

Some residents are also crying foul, arguing there should have been more consultation on a deal that includes the rights to all vending on the beaches.

"There has to be some community consultation," said Bob Murdoch, who was executive director of a local community group for 31 years. Because the concession contract extends to all food and beverage sales, the group needed to get permission for fundraisers that sold $2 hamburgers - and had to cancel plans to give away free bags of chips to children at a 2008 event.

"I think we could come up with a really symbiotic relationship," he said. "[But]you just give them a monopoly and you never hear from them."

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Mr. Foulidis did not return calls for comment.

The issue has also become something of a political hot potato. Two of the people heading up a petition to reopen contract discussions have been prominent opponents of local Councillor Sandra Bussin: Chris Yaccato ran against her in 2003, and Bruce Baker is running against her this year.

Ms. Bussin recused herself from last month's vote, and when reached this week declined to comment.

The motion to reopen the debate would need at least two-thirds of council's support to go through - a measure of support Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said it's unlikely to get. Mr. De Baeremaeker voted for the contract last month, and says council would be foolish to reopen the issue.

"You'd have to get a very large portion of council to say, 'Forget all of it, I'm going to ignore staff, ignore the past history and I'm going to vote to end this contract a month after I voted to extend it.' I think we would probably get sued. … You don't, as a $9-billion-a-year corporation, cancel legally binding contracts higgledy-piggledy because somebody changes their mind."

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