Bernard Hopkins has a vision for Joe Frazier’s gym. He calls it, “The Joe Frasier Opportunity Center.”
“Not just boxing, because not every mother wants their child to get hit upside the head for a living,” said Hopkins, who will challenge two more top fighters between 2014 and 2015 in hopes of securing the undisputed light-heavyweight championship of the world — at the age of 50.
Hopkins told Metro that he wants to buy the gym at North Broad Street and Glenwood Avenue, which is partially leased by a discount furniture outfit on the building’s first floor.
“I would want to be able to make a bid for the gym,” he said, “and I will request the city back me as a non-profit to make the gym not only a boxing gym but make it more of a learning center for the youth — learning how to eat, learning karate, learning self defense. It has to be something given to the community, to the youth.”
But Hopkins, who said he is planning his first of the two fights for November against WBO light-heavyweight Champion Sergey Kovalev, said he wants members of the Philadelphia community to pass the collection basket. He’s hoping that when he kicks off the buying process, residents will help contribute to the cost.
The furniture store’s lease will expire in less than a year.
“At the end, I want everybody to say they had a piece of working to restore this historic gym,” Hopkins said. “So later on in life, they can say they played a part in it and whatever is not fulfilled at the end, just like the statue, we’ll come in take it on the back end.”
Golden Boy Promotions and two other Philadelphians put up money for Frazier’s statue, but Hopkins swooped in at the end to pay off the balance. The Frazier statue, which will sit outside Xfinity Live!, will debut in early 2015.
“I got it all in my head,” Hopkins said. “But I’ve had it in my head years ago. But no one can do anything until the lease is over.”
Cautiously aggressive is the plan in pursuing the 20,000 sq. ft. building.
“I hear about Joe Frazier’s gym every week,” Hopkins said. “People say, ‘Yo, Bernard, you should you buy it, you should buy it.’ People don’t know that it ain’t that easy. These are everyday working people, they say, ‘You can just go in your pocket and cut a check,’ but no, it’s a process.”
Frazier moved into the former factory in 1968. The first floor served as his training quarters and the second floor, his apartment.Frazier, who sold the beloved gym in 2008, died in 2011.
The building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in April 2013.
“I’ve really been passionate about it and really been telling people,” Hopkins said, “but not to the point where I leave myself vulnerable to the sharks and the greed of those people who think, ‘Oh, that’s Bernard Hopkins, you know what — let’s just come up with these strange numbers.’ You have to be very careful. You have to be very strategic. You have to take the time. It’s just like dissecting an opponent in the ring, and then you must strike when the time is right.
“That’s how I operate my life,” he added, “In the ring and out of the ring.”
The building itself isn’t special. “It’s not an architectural masterpiece,” said Peter Angelides.
Earlier this month, the Urban Land Institute, which studies development issues throughout the region, pulled together a panel to discuss the future of “Smokin’ Joe’s” gym.
Angelides, who co-chaired the panel, said the building is special because of its sentimental civic value.”It’s the site where interesting stuff happened.”
The panel decided the gym wasn’t attractive as either a full-time gym or a museum. The space, panel members concluded, would best be occupied by a full-time retail store or restaurant that would either hang a plaque or dedicate a wall display inside the building to Frazier’s legacy. Or, they suggested to open it up to a nonprofit.
Hopkins will seek the non-profit status for his vision.
The gym was purchased for $300,000 in 2008. Shortly after the sale, the building went on the market for $1 million.
“I think that somewhere between those two numbers is what you might be able to get it for,” said Richard Huffman, another co-chair of the panel.
Because of its dilapidated condition, the gym will be difficult to renovate, according to the panel’s report.
“It would probably cost more to renovate than to buy,” Angelides said. “Maybe two or three times as much.”
“I would want it to be just the way it is,” Hopkins said. “I would want it to be just what Joe Frazier did when I was there —let guys in that couldn’t afford $10 a month and they’d let them train in the gym after the professionals had left.”
The gym was a haven for young men looking for help in controlling and harnessing their aggression.
“I trained there,” he said. “I lost two amateur fights there. Everybody wanted to be at Broad and Glenwood. Everybody wanted to train at Joe Frazier’s gym.”
When fighters from other cities and other groups visited the city, they trained at Joe’s gym. It didn’t matter the weight class, the age range or the experience level — in the 1970s and early 1980s, they all went to see Joe.
“As far as the gym now,” Hopkins said, “Joe Frazier’s name still resides on the building. But it serves as a furniture store and whether it’s high-end or not —which it’s not — it doesn’t really matter. To me, it’s a disrespectful of what this man really stood up for.”
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