Norfolk’s boxing gym and training program relocated to Harbor Park just five years ago, but may be on the move again.
At Tuesday’s City Council work session, Parks and Recreation Director Darrell Crittendon presented a plan to move the gym to Ingleside Recreation Center because of expected construction of a casino next door, as well as potential renovations at the baseball stadium.
Crittendon said the city could have the gym open in Ingleside by February, but the council instructed city staff to wait.
The council requested more information about the casino’s license application, construction at the site and plans for Harbor Park. Council members also asked the staff to report back about the bigger picture for recreation facilities. Ingleside would be a temporary home for the boxing center, and the council wanted staff to explore ideas for a larger sports complex or boxing center that could incorporate a new wrestling program.
With all those factors in play, Mayor Kenny Alexander said a decision about moving the center seemed premature.
Crittendon said former Mayor Paul Fraim had the idea to move the boxing center into Harbor Park, making use of space under the stadium’s bleachers. The center had long been in Barraud Park and was “bursting at the seams,” Crittendon said. The 13,000-square-foot space in Harbor Park was a major upgrade and carried hopes of taking boxing in Norfolk to a new level.
The city has a history as a boxing town. Gloria Peek, the longtime coach at Barraud Park, was the first American woman to coach Olympic boxing, the first in the world to coach male fighters at the games, and the first in the winning corner during a medal bout, all in London in 2012. Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker was a world champion and Olympic gold medalist from the city. Norfolk intended to name the center for Whitaker after he died in 2019, but his family said his legacy was more closely tied to a gym in Virginia Beach where he trained.
Three Norfolk brothers who trained in the boxing center are finding success. Keyshawn Davis was a silver medalist at this year’s Tokyo Olympics. His younger brother, Keon Davis, is considered a top contender in the 2024 Paris Olympics; their older brother, Kelvin Davis, is a professional boxer with a 2-0 record. Crittenden said the brothers remain major supporters.
Keyshawn Davis’ recent accomplishment has likely created more local interest in boxing, Crittenden said, but the center hasn’t been able to take advantage because of the pandemic. The center is doing virtual classes, some individual training and outdoor programs. In the pandemic, it has halted group classes.
The program usually has 80 people in instructional classes and 40 team members — youth and adults — who box in competitive tournaments.
“It’s a special program,” Crittendon said of the tournament team. Along with offering an affordable opportunity to box, he said the program teaches discipline, self-esteem, sense of purpose, scholarship and service. Outreach boxing and fitness programs include classes for Girl Scouts, female firefighters, people with Parkinson’s disease and people with disabilities.
Harbor Park sits right next to the proposed casino site. While the casino has yet to receive its operator license from the Virginia Lottery, the Pamunkey Tribe has said construction will start at the end of 2021 or in early 2022. Filer said the casino developers and the city fully expect to receive the license.
Councilwoman Andria McClellan said relocating the boxing center wasn’t part of discussions about the casino and asked if the developer would pay for the move and a new facility. Filer said the city has had discussions with the casino developer about assisting with the boxing center move and expects them to help fund it, but he didn’t share concrete details.
The other factor driving the move from Harbor Park is anticipated renovation at the stadium. The city is preparing to negotiate a new lease with the Tides. Noting that the park is 20 years old, Filer said it is due for some renovations. The casino construction would be challenging for boxing center users and staff to get to and from the center, but work inside Harbor Park would require the facility to close.
Ingleside Recreation Center is closed because of the pandemic and budget constraints, according to the city website. Crittendon said moving the boxing center there would allow for the center to reopen to the public as well. His staff looked at several closed recreation facilities to house the boxing center, and Ingleside required the least amount of work.
Josh Reyes, 757-247-4692, firstname.lastname@example.org