Developer won't oust popular gym; he'll build project around it: San Diego CA Union-Tribune, 8/30/07

By Tanya Sierra

A developer proposing a block-long housing and retail project that includes a 24-story condominium tower has said he no longer wants to displace a popular National City athletic center. But that's not stopping the gym's lawyers from challenging the city's eminent domain authority.

Jim Beauchamp said this week that he would build around the Community Youth Athletic Center – a tutoring and mentoring program that trains young boxers – instead of continuing to try to buy its building.

The nonprofit center's board of directors, which has been fighting to either stay in its paid-for building or get a substantially higher offer from Beauchamp, reacted cautiously to the news.

“We have never seen this in writing,” board vice president Victor Nuñez said. “We do not know any details as to what exactly they mean by they're going to build around us.”

Beauchamp said he has tried to reach a deal with the center for three years.

“If they want to stay, we can design around them,” Beauchamp said Tuesday. “There's no sense in fighting; we have to move on. I've been more than willing to set up meetings and extend the olive branch for years.”

A similar situation played out in 2006 when a landowner up the street from the gym was on the brink of selling his corner property to an Australian development team. The owner, Daniel Ilko, eventually decided not to sell. The developer, Constellation Property Group, then decided to build around his property.

Background: Community Youth Athletic Center board members and developer Jim Beauchamp spent three years negotiating a price for a new gym location after National City officials approved a redevelopment project where the center is located.

What's changing: Beauchamp said this week he would redesign his project and build around the boxing center.

The future: The gym's lawyers still plan to file a lawsuit challenging National City's blight designation and use of eminent domain, which they say is among the most abusive in the country.

Online: For a multimedia presentation on the gym, go to uniontrib.com/more/boxing.

Earlier this month, the gym's plight reached a national platform after the center's high-profile lawyers, based in Virginia, sent news releases to hundreds of media organizations explaining their National City case.
The Institute for Justice was the law firm that represented homeowners in the Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., eminent domain dispute in 2005. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that governments could force private property owners to sell their land to spur economic development.

Some journalists and bloggers picked up the National City story, including Sports Illustrated and a syndicated Florida newspaper columnist.

For about 15 years, the gym's founders, Carlos Barragan Sr. and his son Carlos Jr., have been recruiting gang members and at-risk youths in National City. Hundreds of youths learned to box at the Barragans' center, which began in the elder Barragan's backyard.

The father and son instilled a sense of discipline in the boxers and mentored many who believed they were headed for prison or an early death.

Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated wrote in his Aug. 13 column that “the city is threatening to seize their property through the right of eminent domain, which is bureaucratese for 'we take your land and you watch.' ”

To Mayor Ron Morrison, Reilly directed this comment: “And if you kick the Barragans out so some slick in Armani can buy a bigger yacht, I hope your car stereo gets jacked – weekly – by a kid who would've otherwise been lovingly coached on their jabs and their math and their lives.”

San Diego CA Union-Tribune: http://www.signonsandiego.com