Sunday, February 12, 2012

Developers: Boxing might return to the Blue Horizon

"Plans to convert the famed Blue Horizon on North Broad Street into a hotel with two restaurants are moving forward, its developers say.

But a new notion - spurred by numerous inquiries the developers say they've received over the last month - also would have it housing a venue for boxing - the very thing the original Blue Horizon was known for.

"We are considering it. It is known internationally as a boxing venue," said Scott Orens of Orens Bros. Real Estate Inc., co-owner and co-developer of the property with Mosaic Development Partners of West Philadelphia.

"We have to make it so that the guests in the restaurants and hotel are compatible with the people watching boxing," Orens said. "We have to make sure that all blends together in a functional kind of way."
In early August, plans for converting the Blue Horizon, on the 1300 block of North Broad Street, into a hotel to cater to Temple students and their families were announced. The hotel also would help meet new room demand resulting from the expanded Convention Center.

The 84-room hotel is being rebuilt with the aid of a $6 million state grant from the Corbett administration. Details about the restaurants, one of which will be a catering hall, are still being worked out.

Orens said more than half of the building would be restored, and the rest - including the hotel - would be ground-up development.

The site remains under agreement for a change of ownership for an undisclosed amount, he said.

Orens said Thursday that work on the 146-year-old property likely would start at the end of May, to meet the grant's timeline requirement.

"Construction will begin shortly. . . . We are talking to several different flagship hotels," he said. "It's still very difficult these days to get financing. You can't just walk to a corner bank and fill out an application. [But] I absolutely believe it will happen."

Leslie Lewis, who runs Mosaic Partners with Greg Reaves, said the developers were getting the proper approvals and zoning from the city for the hotel conversion.

"There are a lot of pieces still being put together," Lewis said. "We've garnered a lot of support."

That includes support from Vernoca Michael, Blue Horizon president and CEO, whose vision has been "to preserve the facility and not tear it down." The venue hosted its last fight on June 4, 2010.

"We wanted to have it as a place for entertainment, restaurants, a museum for boxing, and of course, a hotel," Michael said. "Mosaic was the one group that wanted to work with my vision."

The Blue Horizon occupies what once were three mansions, built in 1865 and combined by the Loyal Order of the Moose into one large lodge in 1912.

In 1961, the property became the Blue Horizon, going on to host IBF/USBA super-middleweight championship bouts and IBC and NABC state titles and Hispanic championships. Sugar Ray Leonard, Bernard Hopkins, and Arturo Gatti were among the 50 fighters who fought there and went on to win world titles.

In 2005, Ring magazine called the Blue Horizon "the best place to watch a boxing match." But by summer 2010, the venue had closed because of tax problems.

For the Blue Horizon to stay true to its boxing heritage, Orens said, some issues have to be ironed out.

"There are concerns from the neighborhood about previous events . . . where patrons may have taken their rowdiness outside," he said. "But our venue will be much nicer, and having actual fights is . . . absolutely on the table and being discussed."

Phone calls have been streaming in, Lewis added, from "people that follow the sport that really want to have this facility still host some fights. Because of the authenticity of the experience, they feel it would be a big loss to the boxing community. About a month ago, we started definitely examining it."

But changes would be needed to accommodate today's fights.

"The Blue Horizon, as is, does not compete well with the existing newer and larger venues," Orens said. "It is not up to code. It doesn't have a sprinkler system. When you went there, you sat almost next to the ring.

"The new boxing venue would have to be different, but within the same arena."

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