Downtown Boxing Club Down For The Count In Battle Against Gentrification (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Downtown Boxing Club Down for the Count in Battle Against Gentrification

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Our next story takes us to a garage, of all places. A garage in Northwest D.C. where people have been getting together, not to fix up cars or practice with their band, but to engage in some serious hooks, uppercuts and stiff jabs. It's called The Downtown Boxing Club, but as Chris Klimek tells us, with the surrounding neighborhood going more and more upscale, the humble gym is being priced out.

MR. CHRIS KLIMEK

00:00:31
Downtown Boxing Club is just a short walk from the 7th Street Convention Center Metro stop. But it can be tough to find, tucked away in Blagden Alley off of 9th Street NW. Inside, the scene is Spartan, even by the standards of boxing gyms. There's a boxing ring and a bag cage and metal shelves with boxing gloves and shoes that cover most of one wall. There's one toilet. It works. And a furnace that doesn't, really. The walls and floor are concrete.

MR. CHRIS KLIMEK

00:00:56
Sunday afternoon, when I drop by, is the first day trainer Dave White has been able to open in nearly a week. It's just been too cold.

MR. DAVE WHITE

00:01:03
Come in with that uppercut. Go to the head. Aim it and make it as accurate as you can, and get those gloves back real fast.

KLIMEK

00:01:10
The guys here today are the die-hards, the ones who come in to train with White four to six times a week.

WHITE

00:01:15
Yeah. OK. All right.

KLIMEK

00:01:17
Emmanuel Osei, a 35-year-old lawyer for the government, says he's lost 30 pounds in the three years he's been training here. Here he runs down a typical 90 minute workout.

MR. EMMANUEL OSEI

00:01:25
We do shadow boxing for about six minutes. Then we hit the bag, sometimes about 40 to 45 minutes. Then you get in the ring with him, you spar for about three minutes. Sometimes it's two times two minutes. Afterwards, you jump rope for nine minutes. After that, you get in the ring. You do 100 pushups, and you do 400 sit ups.

KLIMEK

00:01:44
These guys won't be able to come here for these sorts of workouts much longer. On the outside of the gym, notice of a pending liquor license application is posted. As rents in the surrounding neighborhood rise, White is being priced out of the space he's leased for seven years to make way for a restaurant called, "The American."

MR. JOSH COHEN

00:01:58
It's a shame. You know, this is such a great place, and everybody in here appreciates it so much, and it's just a great place to come work out.

KLIMEK

00:02:05
Josh Cohen is 23 years old. He's been training here for two years.

COHEN

00:02:08
There's not too many no frills places you can go, without a contract. You just come in here and just focus on getting the workout in, nice people. This is no L.A. Boxing type, you know, nobody's trying to sell you on anything. It's all about working out and having fun here.

KLIMEK

00:02:23
Dues here are 100 dollars a month, pay as you go, no contracts. For that, you can come in and train as often as you want, though you're not getting in the ring to spar until White's convinced you're ready. Newcomers generally take at least two months.

WHITE

00:02:35
I have to make sure that when they get in there -- number one, they're not gonna run out of gas. And you can be in really good shape and still run out of gas because of the anxiety and all the rest of it. So, you know, I gotta make sure that doesn't happen. And I have to make sure they've got these technical fundamentals down. They gotta keep their gloves up, they gotta stay in their stance, they can't cross their feet.

KLIMEK

00:02:54
White is 62. He started boxing late, at age 29. He moved to D.C. from Atlanta in 1984, and he opened him gym in the late 90s, across from the Metro Center Red Line stop.

WHITE

00:03:03
I was in a building that had a Popeye's Fried Chicken on the ground floor, a beauty salon on the second, a sexual massage parlor on the third and I was on the fourth. And that space was affordable. And then the neighborhood changed, and they closed the Popeye's, and I had to move.

KLIMEK

00:03:19
The space we're in now is White's third location in the 15 years he's been doing this. The first time he looked at it, he passed.

WHITE

00:03:25
I really would rather have is a lower ceiling, steel I-beams, and a lot more bags hanging from the ceiling.

KLIMEK

00:03:30
Delays with the incoming restaurant, which was first announced last summer, have already given him a reprieve of several months. But it now appears all but certain Downtown Boxing Club will be relocating in 2014. White isn't thrilled to be seeking his fourth location, but he's been through this cycle before.

WHITE

00:03:44
This neighborhood wasn't all that great. There were still -- you know, there was still a lot of prostitution and there were still guys, you know, selling drugs and using drugs in the alley when I moved in. That was on the decline.

KLIMEK

00:03:54
And that was 2007?

WHITE

00:03:55
That was, yeah, I guess that was 2007, and things got better. And now they've -- they're putting up condos two blocks from here, and I'm gonna have to move again, which is basically what I've experienced twice already. I'm lucky it didn't happen sooner.

KLIMEK

00:04:13
White says he'd prefer to stay in this part of town, but finding something he can afford here probably won't happen.

WHITE

00:04:18
When you're looking for space for the boxing gym, you're looking at the low end of the commercial real estate market.

KLIMEK

00:04:23
Wherever he ends up next, bars and condos are likely to follow. Eventually. I'm Chris Klimek.
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