Blue Horizon having trouble with taxes, L&I

In this photo from 2007, Vernoca Michael poses with historic marker.
In this photo from 2007, Vernoca Michael poses with historic marker.
Posted: June 26, 2010

THE BLUE HORIZON has found itself on the ropes and taking its lumps on more than one occasion, but this time the world-renowned boxing venue at 1314 N. Broad St. might not be able to cover up and fight its way out of trouble.

On June 4, representatives of the Department of Licenses & Inspections, acting on a tip from someone in the city Health Department, showed up at a professional boxing card at the historic brownstone building to issue a cease-and-desist order because food and beer were being sold and dispensed without proper permits. L&I was prepared to shut down the entire show - the main event was featherweight Coy Evans' unanimous, six-round decision over Barbaro Zepeda - but relented and allowed the bouts to continue, though the concession stands were closed.

"We were notified by the Health Department that food was being served without a food license," said Mike Maenner, L&I's director of operations. "Everyone who eats there should be able to do so knowing that what they're eating is properly prepared and safe. Nor did they have a license to serve [beer]."

Now it is beginning to appear that Evans-Zepeda might be the last of hundreds of boxing events staged since 1961 at the Blue Horizon, which was constructed in 1865 as a fashionable private residence - and it isn't because the sausage sandwiches and frosty brews present possible health threats to the public.

Sources close to the situation suggested that the lack of permits, which seemingly could be resolved easily enough, is not the biggest obstacle confronting Vernoca Michael and Carol Ray, who purchased the Blue Horizon in 1994.

Those sources said that failure to pay taxes for years could have the effect of permanently shuttering a site Ring magazine described as "the best place in the world to see a fight," or at least until any outstanding debt is brought current.

Efforts by the Daily News to contact someone with the city Department of Revenue with information pertaining to the Blue Horizon's tax situation were unsuccessful.

"I went by the other day and the doors were locked, the telephone was disconnected, I couldn't get hold of Vernoca," said Don Elbaum, matchmaker for Blue Horizon Boxing, which has put on cards promoted by Michael since 2002. "I've been calling her, but she hasn't called me back."

Elbaum isn't the only person who hasn't had much luck getting in touch with Michael, whose cell-phone message suggests that media information-gatherers or bearers of bad tidings shouldn't expect a prompt response:

"Hi, this is Vernoca's number to receive calls that are designed to make me feel good. If this is not your purpose, hang up and call Dr. Phil."

Michael and Ray have sparred with L & I almost from the time they went $500,000 into debt to buy the Blue Horizon, a fixer-upper with historic significance but a laundry list of problems. When they made the purchase, they said they expected that $2 million in state funds would be made available as part of the Avenue of the Arts improvement project.

In 2002, the co-owners did receive a $1 million state grant, as well as a $1 million low-interest loan from the Delaware River Port Authority. Michael said that $5 million was needed to fully restore the building, and that during the interim, she and Ray had paid for piecemeal repairs out-of-pocket, further reducing their financial margin of error.

The Blue Horizon website notes that Nia Kuumba is the facility's "non-profit arm," and that the "first phase" of planned renovations have been completed. The questions now are whether any profits can be made, regardless of which arm is being considered, and whether the second phase of renovations - which Michael has said would include a boxing museum and a restaurant - ever will be undertaken. *

|
|
|
|
|