Roanoke Can Evict Boxing Gym From City-Owned Building After Lease Expired, Judge Rules

When the lease ended, the city had sought proposals for the former fire station, which is in need of significant repairs.

Thomas Zelrick, 19, at left, gets coaching from Monte Dunnaville, 29, a professional fighter, at Champ's Gym on Aug 22, 2023. ROANOKE RAMBLER FILE PHOTO

Roanoke may proceed with evicting a boxing gym that has stayed in a city-owned building for nearly a year after its lease ended, a judge ruled last Wednesday.

Melrose Athletic Club, which runs Champ’s Gym out of a former Southeast Roanoke fire station, had fought the city’s efforts in court.

Judge Thomas Roe determined the gym had a fixed, three-year lease that expired last November after City Council opted not to renew the agreement.

Instead, City Council sought proposals for leasing or purchasing the building, which was built in 1911 and needs significant repairs.

Around the same time last fall, the city was helping another boxing gym, the nonprofit Boxfit, secure a lease to a city-owned facility, the former Norwich Recreation Center.

Roe thanked Champ’s Gym coaches and two 12-year-old athletes who attended the court hearing. He encouraged the city to find another building that the club could use.

“This is too great a value to Roanoke City to not have this organization up and running,” the judge said.

Melrose Athletic Club has appealed the Roanoke City General District Court ruling.

“I respect Judge Roe but I disagree with this decision,” Victor Banks, the club’s president, said. “We’re trying to stay the course and keep competing and everybody’s still training, as we’ve been doing.”

Defense attorney Melvin Hill, who represented the gym, argued in court that the city didn’t give proper notice when declining to renew the lease. He pointed to a state law that said some commercial leases required a 90-day notice. Hill also said the city did not comply with the lease’s own provision about giving 60 days notice to terminate the lease.

But David Collins, a senior assistant city attorney, said the state law didn’t apply in this case and that the notice provision in the lease only applied if either party ended the lease early.

He also said the gym declined this spring to sign a month-to-month lease. Banks said the club declined because he believes the lease should have been renewed for another three years.

Melrose Athletic Club has leased the crumbling city building for $10 per year since 2016. The nonprofit, which doesn’t charge youth under 18, says it aims “to prevent youth violence and delinquent behavior by providing a drug free atmosphere for youth fitness and academic improvement.”

Roe agreed with Collins that the three-year lease would not have renewed automatically, noting that even if the law’s 90-day notice applied, the club has stayed well past that point.

Collins told the judge after the hearing that the city has been looking for a new building for the gym but has “not been able to find a place yet.”

Banks testified in court that when he attempted to renew the lease last summer, Cassandra Turner, an economic development specialist, said she thought the nonprofit REACH was moving into the building.

Banks said that’s why Champ’s Gym didn’t submit a bid after the city decided to seek proposals.

“The proposal process was tainted because she already told us on June the 30th who was interested,” Banks said.

Turner testified that the city received one proposal but declined to name the organization, noting it was not public.

REACH, which runs summer camps and community revitalization projects, has said it submitted a proposal. The nonprofit said it proposed investing about $150,000 in renovating the old fire station through a sale or a lease-to-own agreement and aimed to hold concerts and neighborhood parties in the building.

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