What did Muhammad Ali think during his last visit to Philadelphia? Hard to tell. However, he probably noticed that his formidable and deceased rival had seemingly faded into oblivion.
It’s to be expected if Joe Frazier doesn’t pop into your mind as the heavyweight champion that once knocked down Ali. There is nothing in the city to remind you of Frazier’s legacy as a boxer or youth advocate.
However, you should know that Frazier’s gym is crucial for the economic expansion of North Philadelphia and the integration of the community.
Until 2008, the gym was the centerpiece of the neighborhood, open for teenagers who could not afford a gym membership. Now, it is a furniture store and the latest addition to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
According to a report issued by Preservation Alliance, historic preservation has been an important contributor to the city’s economic growth. It accounts for revenue, expenditures and employment.
Between 1998 and 2008, historic preservation in Philadelphia resulted in “annual impacts of over $660 million in total expenditures supporting over 2,800 jobs and over $100 million in earnings each year.” Additional benefits include heritage tourism and increases in property values.
Despite all these economic incentives to preserve landmark buildings, the city has failed to protect the historic value of the gym. Temple’s architecture department, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Alliance are the only entities that have prevented the building from being demolished.
Mayor Michael Nutter’s office seems to think that erecting a statue of Frazier at South Philadelphia’s Xfinity Live!, which as of Monday has received only $200 in funding, is enough to honor him. Yet, the would-be statue barely accounts for Frazier’s boxing career.
The gym, where a generation of fighters trained, represented not just his athletic achievements but also a sense of community that boxing created in the neighborhood. So, if the Mayor’s office is serious about honoring Frazier, it must consider the impact his life and accomplishments had on North Philadelphia and do something to benefit that community.
Aside from neglecting the gym, this policy contradicts the plan to foster development on North Broad Street.
In 2005, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission issued the report “Extending the Vision for North Broad Street.” In its outline, it calls for the conservation of “architectural assets” to boost the “importance of the street in history” and “its significance in Philadelphia.”
For North Philadelphia, this discrepancy means no tourism, no employment, no revenue and no increase in the property value of its buildings.
Frazier gave Philadelphia a chance to do something for the community by linking his name and legacy to the neighborhood.
When the city fails to honor Frazier, it also fails North Philadelphia residents and the people close to him.
Next time you pass by the decaying gym, think about Frazier. Public awareness will teach Nutter how to properly honor a legend.
Laura Ordonez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.