Early next year, if Richard DeCesare has anything to say about it, the Bronx will become more violent. Gang leader? Mafia don? Hardly. The Grand Concourse will feel, instead of gunfire, the impact of bone-crushing scissor kicks and jaw-shattering right hooks courtesy of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Prince Naseem Hamed when DeCesare, a 51-year-old Bronx real-estate developer, completes the boxing-and-wrestling ring he’s installing in the Loew’s Paradise Theatre just south of Fordham Road.
The 52,000-square-foot Paradise will be the third-largest theater venue in the city (after Radio City Music Hall and the Paramount at Madison Square Garden), says DeCesare, and needless to say, it will be the only such facility in the Bronx. A landmarked building designed by John Eberson and festooned with Baroque architectural ornamentation, the Paradise is costing DeCesare $12 million to buy and restore to its original condition. Well, almost original. When the 4,000-seat theater opened in 1929, it was one of the grandest of all the Depression-era movie palaces, but it didn’t have the 7,000-square-foot training gym DeCesare is constructing in its basement. It also didn’t have the boxing-and-wrestling ring, which will rise through the floor of the theater’s orchestra pit, leaving the stage free for bands, dancers, and actors when combatants aren’t slugging it out on the canvas.
DeCesare, whose thin mustache and tiny diamond earring complement the dark pinstriped suits he favors, is currently negotiating to bring televised all-star wrestling matches to the Paradise on a weekly basis. Boxing matches, including title bouts, will be held once or twice a month, says DeCesare, who himself manages several fighters, among them Alex Garcia (40-5-1, 31 KOs), briefly a contender for the heavyweight crown in the early nineties.
When punches aren’t flying in the Paradise, DeCesare will put on pop concerts – primarily Latin music, he says, “because of the ethnicity of the borough and because Latin music has become the most popular in the world.” He’ll also let local schools hold graduation ceremonies there free of charge, thus returning to the Bronx a long-lost coming-of-age tradition. (The original theater was split into a duplex movie house in 1973, then made into a quadriplex in the late eighties, before being shut down in 1994 when the Loews company fell on hard times.)
Whether Manhattan boxing enthusiasts will venture up to the still-seedy Grand Concourse – where shops like the Dandy Unisex Hair Salon and What’s Up Sneakers and Sportswear struggle to hang on even as a Starbucks thrives around the corner on Fordham Road – remains to be seen. On the other hand, considering prices at the Garden, DeCesare could well have fans slugging it out for Paradise tickets. Born and raised in the Bronx, DeCesare laughs when asked if he has ever stepped into the ring himself. “No,” he says. “But I had relatively extensive experience outside the ring when I was young.