Hook Elite Boxing, owned and operated by Newburgh resident Leonard Lee, is now facing an uncertain future, which all started when City of Newburgh officials were ensuring they were following COVID-19 regulations and protocols. At the same time, the City is restoring Delano Hitch Stadium, which is where the locker room utilized by the boxing club is located.
Beyond ensuring that COVID-19 protocols are met, it was brought to attention that the boxing club has not operated with a licensing agreement in place since 2014. Neither the city officials or Lee have acknowledged this fact, until now.
“No one pressed me to leave,” said Lee. “Why was I going to wake a sleeping dog?”
However, many of the city officials are different from 2014 to today.
“I don’t understand why that’s the case … I can’t speak to what has or has not happened since 2014,” said City Manager Joseph Donat regarding the absence of a licensing agreement for six years. “Not having a licensing agreement opens up a bunch of liability issues and a space cannot be occupied without a licensing agreement.”
The boxing club has allowed generations of Newburgh’s youth to participate in the sport while giving them something to do after school since it opened in 2010. Their mission hopes to bring change in the community by helping restore fundamental values through learning boxing.
“I’m really trying to show people that you can turn your life around,” said Lee. “There are people out there that I pass by that I used to hang out with and they’re still hanging in the street. I try to show them you can truly change your life if you want to.”
The news of the uncertain future has not come easy to anyone, especially the hundreds of children who love the boxing club.
More pressing originally was sorting out the gym’s status to operate with COVID-19.
Hook Elite Boxing did not undergo an inspection to operate as a gym in New York State until September 29. Although the City Manager was unsure of them passing the inspection, he had hoped the best for them.
“Having an organization operating not in compliance with the requirements from the State can allow for the [positive coronavirus] numbers to continue to grow,” said Donat. “I want to do whatever I possibly can to prevent that and safeguard the community.”
The boxing club did pass inspection and received a business affirmation from the Orange County Health Department on September 29, giving them permission to operate.
Despite the passed inspection, now Hook Elite Boxing and the City need to discuss how to move forward considering the licensing agreement is up.
Over the summer, the City has done a number of things to restore the adjacent stadium, which include a new main diamond, a new sprinkler system, hydro-seeding the entire field and work beginning on the soccer field.
“We transform that stadium, we transform that neighborhood,” said Donat during the September 28 council meeting. “The only reason we’ve been able to take advantage of this this summer is because of the restrictions we’ve been up against COVID wise, where those fields could not be used or occupied based on little league and soccer not being able to be played at this time.”
The city is in the midst of renovating the stadium and locker rooms, one of the potential reasons to why they are in contact now.
“I understand what they’re trying to do here, and I’m all for it,” said Lee about the stadium’s renovations. “I’m not just for the boxing youth, I’m for all the youth in the City of Newburgh.”
He is open to a new location as long as it is in the inner-city and walkable for children who usually attend the gym.
“I think Hook Elite could certainly benefit from having a larger space, COVID and non-COVID related” said Donat in regards to them relocating.
In response to the back and forth between the City and the boxing club, Lee simply asked, “Couldn’t we have done this a better way?”
While Donat believes that transforming the stadium will help the neighborhood, many have seen how Lee has transformed the lives of many children in the area as well.
Councilman Omari Shakur expressed his appreciation for Lee during the last council meeting stating, “Me and Leonard Lee grew up on these streets and made it through these streets. I have to stand with my brother Leonard Lee because he is saving children right now. Everyday I see him with 20 or 30 of our kids. He might not have all of his paperwork, I understand that part, but like my grandmother said ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’”
In addition to passing the COVID-19 inspection, Hook Elite Boxing does hold a 501(c)(3), with paperwork dated March 7, 2018 and boxing certifications from USA Boxing for safety and coaches, something else that was of concern by the City.
“We can talk about what the next steps entail,” said Donat regarding the new information of Hook Elite Boxing having both the COVID-19 regulation certification and the 501(c)(3). “The next conversation will be whether or not the city wants to enter a licensed agreement. It will have to be had with the entire City Council and would need their approval to do so.”
Donat says that he believes the Council does not wish to go down that route. Because of that, he is offering his help to assist Lee in any way possible moving forward. Additionally, Lee is looking himself for other options and locations to have the gym.
At this time there is no eviction notice for Hook Elite Boxing and they are hoping to occupy the space until they need to find another location, which the City has said they will help with if a new licensing agreement isn’t made.
Lee plans to continue to train Newburgh’s youth and help create boxing champions who can put Newburgh on the map.