NEWS

Boxing event at Stadium gets panel's OK

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 6/2/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Members of the City Council last week cleared the way for a June 19 boxing event to be held at Cranston Stadium, although the granting of licenses necessary for the promotion to proceed was not without debate. The council's Safety

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NEWS

Boxing event at Stadium gets panel's OK

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Members of the City Council last week cleared the way for a June 19 boxing event to be held at Cranston Stadium, although the granting of licenses necessary for the promotion to proceed was not without debate.

The council’s Safety Services & Licenses Committee on May 27 granted two licenses – one for the entertainment and boxing portion of the event, to Classic Entertainment & Sports Inc., doing business as CES Boxing, and one for temporary beer and wine sales at the event, to EZ Bar LLC. Both were approved on 5-2 votes. The boxing license requires final sign-off through the state Department of Business Regulation.

A press conference was held at the stadium the next day to formally announce the two-part CES Boxing event, which will include an afternoon professional card followed by amateur contests in the evening. (See a full story in Sports, Page 24.)

Supporters of the event, including the administration of Mayor Ken Hopkins, touted it as a chance for the city to gain national, and even international, exposure.

“This is viewed as a great marketing opportunity for the city … [an] opportunity to sell Cranston post-COVID,” Anthony Moretti, the mayor’s chief of staff, told council members. He also said the mayor views the June 19 matches as a “one-off event” that will “help spur the city’s economy” coming out of the pandemic.

Opponents, however, questioned whether logistical and security issues had been adequately addressed to protect residents in neighborhoods around the Stadium. There was also pushback against the administration’s decision to waive facility rental and police detail fees as part of the proposed agreement with the promoter.

“We’re not comparable to McCoy Stadium … We are not an industrial area. We’re a small, vulnerable space, a good community of working people,” resident Tara Quinn said during the public hearing portion of last week’s meeting.

She added: “I know that there’s other places for this event to take place where it’s not going to disrupt the neighbors.”

Background and basics

Moretti told council members that Jimmy Burchfield Sr., the well-known boxing promoter behind CES Boxing, approached the administration earlier this year with the concept for the Cranston Stadium event.

Officials initially “had concerns” about the evening component of the event, Moretti said, but the mayor “acquiesced” based on the benefits that portion of the promotion will have for the local amateur boxers who participate.

During last week’s discussion, it was indicated that the typical field rental fee for the Stadium is $200 an hour, while the cost of four hours of police and fire details was estimated at $2,400.

In terms of the move to waive those fees for the promoter, Moretti said: “We believe this is fair, in the best interest of the city.” The hope, he said, is that tax revenue generated from patronage at local establishments related to the event will mostly offset, and perhaps exceed, the lost revenue.

Jimmy Burchfield Jr., an attorney who serves as chief operating officer of CES Boxing, said the Cranston event will be broadcast live via the UFC Fight Pass platform, which he estimated reaches between 300,000 and 400,000 people worldwide.

“The intent of us is to make this about Cranston,” the younger Burchfield said. That will include elements of the broadcast highlighting the Stadium and other parts of the city, he said, along with a local singer being selected to perform the national anthem. He said the event will also include a tribute to the late Adam DeCeccio, an Army veteran who passed away late last year.

Moretti added: “It’s hard to put a price tag on that exposure, that television exposure, that we’re going to get.”

There was some confusion during last week’s meeting over the precise hours of the June 19 event and whether the temporary liquor license would allow for hard alcohol sales rather than only beer and wine.

The licenses as approved call for hours of 1 to 9 p.m. for the event, although it was also indicated that gates will open, and boxing will commence, earlier than 1 p.m. The fights may also run later, depending on how many rounds individual contests run.

In terms of the alcohol sales, the license granted to EZ Bar and its owner, Stephen Hallas – a 20-year Cranston Public Schools teacher who currently teaches at Cranston High School East – is for wine and beer sales only. Hallas and city officials indicated an incorrect box had been checked on the license application, which created the initial impression it was a full temporary license.

Hallas, who said his staff includes other teachers, said he intends to end service prior to the last match during both the early and late portions of the event. He also said he will not serve during the break between the two cards.

According to Burchfield, the early portion of the June 19 event, which will feature professional fighters, will begin around noon. There will be a break between those matches and the amateur slate, which is slated to begin at approximately 7 p.m.

During last week’s meeting, Burchfield said the events are being ticketed separately. He said approximately 1,000 fans are expected for the professional slate, while between 500 and 600 are anticipated for the amateur matches.

A check of online ticketing through the CES Boxing website on Tuesday showed prices ranging between $54 and $250 for tickets to the professional card, while tickets for the amateur portion of the event were listed at between $30 and $80.

Burchfield said plans call for food trucks to be on the Stadium grounds during the event. He also said the promoters have worked with nearby businesses and locations, including the YMCA, to secure additional parking.

Cranston Police Maj. Todd Patalano said Chief of Police Col. Michael Winquist had reviewed plans for the event and given his sign-off. He said bike patrol officers will be assigned to work the perimeter of the event and monitor parking, and additional traffic safety measures will be taken based on the number of tickets sold and the anticipated size of the crowd.

“I think the streets will be fine,” he said, noting the Stadium has hosted other large-scale music and athletics events with larger audiences.

During last week’s discussion, Burchfield made a verbal commitment to donate $500 to the city in lieu of the normal rental and detail fees. He also said the promoters are planning to make a donation to a local nonprofit organization as part of the event.

Concerns, support from residents

A number of members of the public addressed council members during last week’s meeting – some in support of the June 19 event, others opposed.

Quinn, who lives on Jordan Avenue, said while she is “all for” such an event being held in Cranston, she and others would prefer “to keep the Stadium for the community and what we’ve used it for historically.”

“This is not a moral standard that I’m trying to set,” she said, urging officials and the promoter to look for alternative venues.

Chandler Avenue resident Joe Liberatore raised concerns over both parking in the surrounding neighborhoods and the sale of alcohol during the event.

“The boxing is boxing. I think adding alcohol to the mix, in this neighborhood, is just not a good idea,” he said, noting the number of children who live in the area.

Frank Mastrati Jr. struck a similar note, telling council members that “if you start giving liquor licenses away at public facilities … you could be setting a precedent.” He also called what is planned for June 19 “out of the ordinary for what the neighbors are used to.”

Others echoed the administration and promoter in touting the event’s benefits for the city.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the city of Cranston,” Natick Avenue resident Henry Palazzo said. Cranston, he added, “has always had a history of having sporting events,” including horse and car racing many years ago.

Gary Balletto, a former world champion boxer whose two sons are set to compete on June 19, called it a “special event.”

“I don’t see a better location than Cranston Stadium,” he said.

Michael Maraci, a resident of Hope and a business owner in Cranston, also spoke in support of the promotion.

“We’ve never had anything like this before … It’s a great opportunity for local fighters to be able to showcase their skills,” he said.

Council members weigh in

Both votes of the seven-member Safety Services & Licenses saw the same 5-2 split, with Citywide Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli, the committee’s chair, joining Council President Chris Paplauskas of Ward 5, Vice President Ed Brady of Ward 4, Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain and Ward 6 Councilman Matthew Reilly in the majority. Citywide Councilman Robert Ferri and Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas dissented.

Several council members, include others who do not serve on the Safety Services panel, weighed in on the June 19, both during last week’s meeting and in subsequent statements posted to social media or sent to the Herald.

Brady praised CES Boxing for selecting Cranston, saying the “international exposure” will be a major benefit for a city that lacks the kind of marketing resources available to communities such as Warwick and Newport.

“I think we wear Cranston on our sleeve … To get that kind of exposure and possibility in Cranston, I think is something truly to be excited about,” he said.

Paplauskas said alcohol sales have been part of past events at the Stadium without incident. He also cited the Bacon & Beer Festival held at Cranston Print Works in 2019 as an example of an event that drew similar concerns but ended up being a success.

The council president also spoke of the X Games coming to Providence in the 1990s, which “really put Providence back on the map.” While the impact of the CES Boxing event will not be on that scale, he said, it will bring welcome visibility to Cranston.

“We’ve got to start somewhere, and I think coming out of COVID, it could definitely put a positive spin on the city,” he said.

Reilly said the timing of the event, as the pandemic eases, “couldn’t be better.”

“This event signals to the state, the country, that Cranston’s coming out with a bang … This is exciting. It’s out of the box. It’s one afternoon and an evening,” he said.

Renzulli added: “I don’t think this is an opportunity that comes too often for us … Marketing costs a lot of money, and we don’t have anyone to do that in the city.”

During last week’s meeting, Germain advocated strongly for the city to receive some kind of compensation from the promoter, leading to the commitment for the $500 donation.

In a statement sent to the Herald Tuesday, she outlined the reasons for her votes in support of the two licenses.

“As I stated at the committee meetings on May 27th, 2021, I voted to approve the Boxing application because I believe the event will serve for the greater good of the people of Cranston. I maintain this position,” the statement reads. “Although residents express disagreement about the license, the number of people in favor is far greater than those who oppose it. As a body, we are to grant licenses based on the recommendations from our police officers, firefighters, and legal experts. These recommendations were presented. We follow policies and procedures to grant or deny projects in our city. And so, we have institutions who are charged with ensuring that our policies are appropriately, correctly and fairly, implemented. Each one of us has their role. I certainly do not want to overstep my role vis-a-vis such as our police officers and our fire department.”

It continues: “Having an event that will bring us together, that will offer hope to our residents as we emerge from a year of pandemic is, I believe, the right thing to do … I voted ‘Yes,’ not because I was pressured, and not because I was afraid. I voted ‘Yes’ and supported this application because the goal is bigger than being Democrat or Republican. As I have always said, I am committed to working together for the betterment of our city. For all of us, I intend to keep this promise even though my positions may not please everyone.”

Those who were opposed to the event questioned whether enough information had been provided related to safety and logistical planning. The administration’s decision to waive fees for the promoter also drew criticism.

Vargas worried about opening a “can of worms” with the fee waivers. She also asked for a delay of the votes until this week to allow for additional time to review plans and other materials. Burchfield, however, said any delay in the vote would necessitate the withdrawal of the application due to the tight window for planning.

“I’d like to see everything on the table as opposed to a handshake,” Vargas said.

Ferri was perhaps most forceful in his opposition. He questioned the fee waivers, the administration’s oversight of the event planning and what he saw as a lack of detail in the information presented to the council.

“I want this thing to happen. I want it to be successful … There’s just too much downside from my perspective,” he said.

In a follow-up statement on social media, he wrote: “I spoke against the vote but said I would be in favor of the event if a plan could be reviewed and if the city was not absorbing these costs. I stated that I could not vote to approve without a plan in front of me. Trying to delay the vote fell upon deaf ears … I am disappointed that those who voted for this rush through license did not put the citizens first.”

Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan, who represents the Stadium area and lives on Packard Street, does not sit on the Safety Services & Licenses Committee and thus could not vote on the licenses. But during comments at the meeting and through a subsequent social media statement, he criticized the fee waivers, the plans to sell alcohol during the event and what he, too, viewed as insufficient information.

“In the past 48 hours, I’ve received a lot of comments. Some all for it, some cautious about it, and some against it,” he told the committee last week. “To be entirely forthcoming, the overwhelming majority of the people that I’ve heard from … are opposed to this.”

He added: “This is a significant detour from a high school football game, or a soccer game, or a band event. It’s just different. There’s not alcohol … It just doesn’t fit.”

Citywide Councilwoman Jessica Marino, who also does not sit on the committee, said during last week’s meeting that the “vast majority” of neighbors she had spoken with had concerns about the event.

“While the idea is good … the problem is that we can’t rush it. We have to do it the right way, and I’m not sure that that’s taking place here,” she said.

In a follow-up statement on social media, she wrote: “Although I minored in math in college and have a doctorate in the law, you don’t need either of those to know that this equation is unbalanced … Let’s be abundantly clear, the primary issue is not about being in favor or against boxing, the issue is about FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY and PUBLIC SAFETY for our City.”

She continued: “For the city to waive the minimal fees associated with the use of our Cranston Stadium, while also taking on the additional expenses for police, fire, clean up, any potential damages to our Stadium (turf), and potential liability to the City, is absolutely mind boggling to me and beyond disappointing. To be clear, no supporting documentation was provided to the city council members on the Safety Services and Licenses Committee or to any city council member, so the members of that committee based their votes on simple assurances. The applicants are making profits as businesspeople should, but we as a city should not be wastefully expending taxpayer funds.”

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