Historic Blue Horizon boxing center near Temple to become Marriott hotel

Residents who live near the former arena disagree about the renovation’s impact on the community.

Wulff Architects, Inc.'s rendering of the Moxy Hotel renovation. COURTESY / PHILADELPHIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION

The Blue Horizon, a historic boxing center on North Broad Street, will be restored and turn into a five-story, 140-room Marriott hotel under the company’s Moxy brand in a $22 million project.

The boxing center was originally constructed as three townhouses in 1878 and was the home of USA Network’s “Tuesday Night Fights” and ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” until 2000. The Philadelphia Historical Commission placed the building’s exterior on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2015, but declined to label the interior similarly, opening the Blue Horizon to major internal adaptations, according to historical commission records. The building has been vacant since 2010.

The Blue Horizon’s ownership swapped hands four times over the course of 132 years, and will now belong to Marriott’s Moxy hotels, which the company’s website describes as a “new millennial-focused boutique hotel concept.”

The Blue Horizon’s owners acquired a permit in 2015 to demolish the interior of the building, including the auditorium where matches were held, restore its exterior and build a hotel in the space, according to historical commission records. At that time, the developers heard from community leaders who said the partial development would preserve most of the cultural landmark.

Some residents and historical preservationists argued turning the inside of the Blue Horizon into a hotel oversteps the initial plan for the building, to construct a hotel in the lot next to the building, and transform the arena into a night club and banquet hall.

The former Blue Horizon boxing arena stands on North Broad Street next to The Nest, a student residential complex that will open in August 2019. HAL CONTE / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Others said the restoration project will drive up property costs in the area near Main Campus, harming longtime community residents.

“Oh hell no,” said Billy Middleton, 65, who lives on Broad Street near Cecil B. Moore. “They can’t do that to the Blue Horizon. That’s been up for over 100 years, they can’t touch it. The Blue Horizon was our party spot. Back then this was was our area. This was all a Black area.”

Tim Witherspoon, Jr., son of two-time heavyweight world champion Tim Witherspoon, who fought in the arena in 1991, said he is disappointed about the building’s restoration.

“I do remember going there and watching him play, really witnessing it all behind the scenes,” Witherspoon, Jr. told The Temple News.

“I wish that the whole building could be preserved as an arena,” he added. “There is no other intimate boxing arena like the Blue Horizon, just witnessing the atmosphere, with people from all over the world…It’s a shame that it’s changing.”

Some residents feel building a hotel at the former Blue Horizon is a wise decision. The renovation will preserve the building’s history, said Brandon Fitzgerald, 43, who lives on Poplar Street near Broad.

“That’s great. I think it has a legendary history,” he said. “It’s still known. It’s still a familiar spot.”

Community members, including the Rev. Lewis E. Nash, Sr., who was the 47th ward leader at the time, shared their thoughts at the 2015 historical commission meeting where it was decided the Blue Horizon’s interior would be developed.

Nash said the project would be a positive development, remove an “eyesore” and draw visitors and employment for residents.

Three years later, some residents continue to have similar attitudes about the Blue Horizon’s transformation into a hotel. Tiffany S. Jones, who lives on Broad Street near Thompson, a block away from the former boxing center, and said its repurpose would be beneficial for the community.

“It will be great. It will attract more people, and the community is being built back up,” Jones said.

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