(Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While grammatically questionable, the adage contains considerable wisdom, and is the correct response to the growing controversy surrounding the future of the Alexandria Boxing Club.
The club, a descendant of several generations of sparring groups in Alexandria, has operated for many years at the Charles Houston Recreation Center with a sweetheart deal from the city. The club’s equipment, coaches and insurance are funded by the D.C. non-profit Fight for Children — a creation of the late philanthropist Joe Robert. Under the agreement, the City of Alexandria provided free space for the club at the recreation center.
The problem arose earlier this year when the group’s free lease arrangement at Charles Houston expired just as the city embarked on a cost recovery initiative to increase fees collected from its recreation programs. (Alexandria recoups a paltry 12 percent of its recreation department’s operating budget through fees, compared to a 34 percent nationwide average.)
The city has continued the old arrangement on a month-to-month basis while simultaneously negotiating a new agreement with Fight for Children. Considerable furor recently erupted in the Parker-Gray neighborhood — home to many boxing club members — after details leaked of a proposed new deal that would slash the club’s hours of operation by more than half.
Unfortunately, Mayor Bill Euille added fuel to the flames by saying, “That is just not how we do business,” in response to a reporter questioning whether residents should have say in the deal. Technically, the mayor is right: There is no provision for public input on each lease the city signs. City Hall’s work would grind to a halt if public comment sessions were held on every bit of business it conducts.
However, deciding the fate of a wildly successful Alexandria institution — home to several boxing hopefuls for the 2016 Summer Olympics — that serves many of our poorest residents is a topic that most definitely warrants public input.
Everyone needs to step back, reassess and then proceed slowly. We have several suggestions:
First, continue the existing month-to-month arrangement through the end of 2014. The city has allowed the club to operate on this basis for many years, why the sudden rush to change?
Take those five months to study usage of club space. Does the club, which currently operates from 4:30 p.m. until Charles Houston closes, fully utilize the space at all times? Then make note of times and days when the space might be reallocated for other uses without causing disruption to the boxing club.
If the city needs to charge the club to use its space — not an unfair requirement given the need to raise revenues — find out what those fees would be. The ensuing five months would give community organizers time to raise money to cover the cost for those unable to pay. Perhaps organizations like the Alexandria Community Trust could help.
Even if public hearings aren’t in order, holding a couple of city-sponsored community meetings that bring together affected Parker-Gray residents, Fight for Children representatives and concerned Alexandrians seems like a good idea.
Let’s find a way to work this out in a fair, amicable way, and leave the fighting in the ring.