Stoyles collides with colleagues over PlayOn tournament

This month’s nearly record-setting PlayOn ball hockey tournament sparked a bit of rough play at Mount Pearl council. But councillor Lucy Stoyles, who tried to lay a body check on any notion of the City hosting the event again next year, found herself severely shorthanded in the chamber.
Some 565 five person teams participated in the tournament, making it the second largest in the country. However the closure of a section of one of the busiest thoroughfares in Mount Pearl had some business owners and residents, according to Stoyles, stewing.
The puck dropped on the debate when councillor Paula Tessier extended a “heartfelt thanks” to the residents and businesses of Mount Pearl for using alternate driving routes for three days around the ball hockey venue, which stretched along Old Placentia Road from Ruth Avenue to the Smallwood Drive intersection and included the Summit Centre and Glacier parking lots.
That comment drew Stoyles into the play.
“Where do I start?” said Stoyles. “I’m not one not to support sport in the city, but I certainly don’t think it was the right place for such a tournament.”
Stoyles said she received many calls about the inconvenience of the road closure, including from Churches. “One church, St. Peter’s Parish, had four christenings on Saturday, and people with babies had to walk down Ruth Avenue,” she noted. “They were totally disgusted that the whole parking lot was full of people using it for PlayOn (parking).”
Some of the young people at the tournament showed no respect to the families trying to get to Church, Stoyles added.
A major disruption at the Salvation Army Church was avoided on Sunday morning, she noted, by having the City’s park patrol and municipal police in the area.
Stoyles said not only were the parishioners of those two Churches, as well as residents “totally disrupted by the PlayOn hockey, which I don’t think ever should have happened, closing our city streets and endangering some of the public,” but so were some businesses.
Some people working at businesses in Glenhill Plaza either couldn’t find parking spaces, or if did, couldn’t get their cars off the lot later, Stoyles said. “Tols at Tols’ Time-Out (Lounge) normally has his poker tournament up there – nobody came,” Stoyles said. “He had to cancel his poker tournament.”
A fundraiser held in the plaza later in the evening was impacted by a lack of parking, she said. “Besides that, the parking lot at Kent’s was blocked with nobody in Kent’s store,” said Stoyles.
Olympic Drive, which houses the Mount Pearl Fire Station, was “so dangerous that if there was a real emergency, I don’t know how the fire trucks would have gotten through,” Stoyles continued. “The traffic buildups and the line ups and the inconvenience to our residents – I certainly hope we don’t do it again.”
Stoyles said she would like to know how much it cost the City to host the event. “I noticed driving up and down Old Placentia Road there is an awful lot of damage done,” Stoyles said. “Everything is cleaned up and it looks nice but, there’s hardly any grass left up there at all and it’s going to cost the City a lot of money to put it back the way it was.”
Stoyles said the event itself is good, but there are better places for it, such as Memorial University where it was hosted in past years.
(The organizers went to Mount Pearl this year, because construction of a science building on the MUN lot displaced the tournament.
If the city is going to play host again, Stoyles suggested, maybe it could look at using parking lots in the industrial park on a weekend when the businesses there are closed.
“It’s not that I’m not supporting it, but I really don’t think we should be closing down city streets to have an event like this and frustrating our residents, especially our Churches, who on Saturday evening and Sunday morning were more than put out,” Stoyles argued.
Stoyles said the next time council considers hosting the tournament, there should be a public vote in the chamber and not just in a private meeting as happened this time.
Councillor Dave Aker said he shares Stoyles’ concerns but wouldn’t want to see the event shut down. Often, he argued, there are hiccups experienced when doing something for the first time and organizers can learn from the experience. “I sympathize and empathize with the businesses,” he said, but “I think it is a good location.”
The tournament, Aker pointed out, is consistent with the sports tourism aims outlined in the City’s strategic plan. He suggested council refer the issues to a committee for assessment and look for ways to get rid of the hiccups in the future. “I support PLayOn, but next year, as you (Stoyles) articulated, clearly it has to be different,” Aker said.
Councillor Andrew Ledwell concurred. “I do regret that some of the incidents that Councillor Stoyles identified have happened, but as councillor Aker rightly says, when you host an event for the first time, you’re bound to get hiccups, you’re not going to get everything right the first time.”
Ledwell said some 3,900 young people had a great time at the event. “And to be frank, I’m more concerned about that than about 30 people playing poker on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “So I hope we do it for a number of years to come.”
Deputy Mayor Jim Locke said the work that was done by City staff prior to the tournament, which included patching the pavement along Old Placentia Road, would have been done anyway. “So it’s not like we used up overtime hours or anything like that,” he said. “It’s work that would have been done, we just prioritized it.”
Locke agreed with Aker that the event falls in line with the City’s sports tourism goals. All the feedback he received, Locke added, was positive. Some business operators saw their sales go up because of the crowds attending the games and liked the event because it was family oriented, he said
“It had a nice community feel to it,” said Locke. “How long have they been running the (St. John’s) Regatta – a hundred and something years, and they still have hiccups. Things happen. I’m not dismissing any of the issues councillor Stoyles raised. There were people who were inconvenienced, but I’m not suggesting we throw the whole event out because of that. I think these are all manageable issues that have been identified.”
Before offering his view, Mayor Randy Simms invited the City’s Director of Community Services, Jason Collins, to offer an assessment. “What was unique about PlayOn was the magnitude of it,” allowed Collins.
He explained that because the tournament was moved from its usual location, the City became involved relatively late in the planning process, which explains some of the hiccups. “When it came to the businesses and community groups, there are certainly things that I think the PlayOn organization and the City can do better in the future,” he said.
Collins said officials have held a debriefing on the event and a report will go to council with recommendations. The PlayOn organizers, he observed, were extremely responsive to suggestions and questions raised by City personnel.
Mayor Simms said the City has the right to host the event for four years. He noted that he asked for a report on any negative comments received by the City, but had yet to see any.
“I will take exception to one comment councillor Stoyles made and really only one,” Simms said. “There are a bunch of things she said that I can think can be challenged, but the closing of streets and endangering of the public – that did not happen. The general public in Mount Pearl at no time were endangered. I drove Olympic Drive in the morning, afternoon and night on both days that it happened and there was no point where two vehicles could not pass. We received no commentary at all from our fire and emergency services, which actually exist on the street, that they were blocked in or could not move.”
Simms said he won’t disagree that Church services were affected and the failure to plan for that was perhaps an oversight. He also admitted some people were inconvenienced by the road closure, but that happens with many events, he argued, including City Days.
 “I challenge the situation as it relates to Kent’s store,” said Simms. “And the businesses from the pizza shop that exists next to Tols’ Time-Out Lounge through to the Fireside Eatery at the Summit enjoyed business receipts the likes of which they’d never seen in their lives. From the point of view of business, this was a hugely successful event. I’m satisfied that for me – and I’m the mayor of this city and if anybody is going to hear this stuff, take it from me, I hear it – not a single negative comment on this (came) from anyone, anywhere, not even during it, not even when we attended the Special Olympics barbeque held at the Reid Centre right in the middle of this thing… I do believe there are improvements that can be made… Otherwise I have to say I think it went marvellously.”

Posted on June 24, 2015 .