By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The city center has all kinds of new development — restaurants, lounges, and hundreds of apartments and condos.
But a very different neighbor is about to join the mix.
A local fighter and his trainer are looking to open a new boxing club just north of the downtown. In fact, they have named their organization Haverhill Downtown Boxing and said they found a building to house a ring and equipment such as punching bags.
They hope to open the gym in a month or so. Another group with ties to the well-known Haverhill Boxing Club that closed in November is looking for a place to open their new gym.
Derek Couture, a 2008 Golden Gloves New England champion, said he and his business partner and trainer Ray Hebert will open their club in a long-vacant storefront at the corner of Locust and Orchard streets, just a few blocks north of the downtown. He said they are in the process of filing paperwork to obtain their nonprofit status and are renovating the space they leased.
Couture, 28, said he and Hebert are taking it slow and are learning as they go.
“We have a lot of guys giving us advice and we’ve been in boxing for years,” Couture said. “Between Ray and I, we should be able to figure this out.”
Hebert, 58, said he was one of the founding members of the original Haverhill Boxing Club in the early 1990s and had been looking for a place to open a boxing club that would primarily serve young people from the inner city. Hebert boxed in his youth in Lowell and his sons Randy Hebert and Raymond “Rocky” Hebert were both Golden Glove novice champions.
“I can see boxing falling on its face here (in Haverhill),” Hebert said, noting the recent closure of the Haverhill Boxing Club, which was located at the old St. Michael’s Church before financial problems forced it to close.
“When you’re in a gym every day, you’re not hanging around corners,’’ he said. “Boxing teaches you discipline. It teaches you to be a gentleman and it keeps you grounded.”
Hebert trained Couture and said he and Couture will be trainers at the new gym. Hebert said his son “Rocky,’’ 38, will also be a member of the staff.
While Couture and Hebert work to open up the new gym, another local group is trying to find a place to house their gym.
For three years, the Haverhill Boxing Club was located at the old St. Michael’s Church on High Street, but financial problems forced the club to move out in November.
Under the guidance of Joe Ferguson, Joe Calnan and other trainers, several young boxers from the organization continued to train outdoors and at gyms in Lawrence.
“Since November, Joe Calnan and I didn’t want to quit on the kids, so we started looking for another place,” Ferguson said about the search for a place to house their new organization, Haverhill Inner City Boxing.
“Having two boxing clubs in the city isn’t overload,” Ferguson said in reference to Hebert and Couture’s plans to open a gym. “We do have different goals, but we all hope to make a difference in the community.”
Ray Hebert said the building his group rented has enough space for a ring, three or four heavy bags, a couple of speed bags and an area to jump rope.
“Arthur Ramalho, my trainer from the West End Gym in Lowell, is giving us the ring and the ropes, which is all new and came from the movie ‘The Fighter,’” Hebert said. “I went to see him the other day and he says, ‘Ray, I’ve got some stuff for you.’”
Couture said it bothers him that Haverhill no longer has a place were young fighters can train, while Lawrence has five gyms.
“When I was a kid, the best place for me was the gym,” Couture said. “When you look at where boxing is a success across America, it’s usually in the inner-city areas.
“Opening my own boxing club was always a dream,” he said. “We’re putting this together and we’re going to make it work.”
Ray Hebert said that in the early 1990s, he used to pick up as many as 10 kids in Lawrence and bring them to train at the Haverhill Boxing Club on Stevens Street.
“Now they’re leaving Haverhill to box in gyms in Lawrence,” Hebert said. “We need to turn this around.
“When I heard that the Haverhill Boxing Club had closed, a couple of kids called me to say they didn’t have a place to box and could I help them out,” Hebert said. “Derek (Couture) still wants to fight another year as an amateur. He’ll be a good role model for the kids, having won a New England championship.”