Ever since Medford's Bulldog Boxing Club shut down four years ago, Masao Williams hoped to find a way to bring boxing back into the community.

Ever since Medford's Bulldog Boxing Club shut down four years ago, Masao Williams hoped to find a way to bring boxing back into the community.

Williams, 26, grew up boxing at the Bulldog gym.

"It helped me a lot," said Williams, who explained the gym not only served as an exercise facility but helped kids with their homework and kept them out of trouble.

When the gym shut down, Williams decided to combine his love of boxing with a career in event consultation and promotion and search for a space to do it all.

Williams said when he saw the abandoned Slick Kart Track building on Narregan Street in Medford was available for lease, he knew he'd found the place to bring his dream to life.

"It was like when you see something and you just want it," said Williams, who signed a five-year lease for the building earlier this year.

Williams poured much of his life savings into transforming the 20,000-square-foot space into The Venue Community Civic Center.

Williams said at least $150,000 has been put into repairs and upgrades so far, funded through his savings and three loans he took out. But he's happy to see it all come together and watch the children who come in for boxing lessons.

Kids can come to The Venue from 4 to 6 p.m. every weekday to learn how to box from Williams and other trainers, including former professional boxer Nelson Sewell.

Sewell, 42, met Williams years ago when the two boxed at Bulldog and they recently reconnected.

"I like working with the youngsters," said Sewell, who believes boxing can help kids let out aggression and find a calm within themselves.

"They need an outlet, and boxing is a very good outlet," said Sewell. "There are a lot of at-risk youths here."

Sewell brings his two children, Malika, 10, and Ja'had, 9, with him to The Venue when he trains.

"He can train really good," said Ja'had. "It's good exercise and I like that you get to fight."

Sewell believes by teaching youth how to fight and defend themselves they are less likely to want to prove themselves in real fights outside of the gym.

"I was an at-risk youth, so this is sort of my way of giving back," Sewell said.

Boxing lessons are offered on a part-time or full-time basis, and cost $25 to $50 a month per child, something Williams says not all families can afford. Williams hopes donations through the community can lead to scholarships for children who can't afford the program.

Roughly 20 students participate in the boxing program already.

Williams said his space has a lot of similarities to the work done at Kids Unlimited, but is still necessary because each of the locations can only help a limited number of children.

"I have a lot of respect for Kids Unlimited, but they can only serve so many kids," said Williams. "What we really need is five of these places."

In addition to boxing, Williams will use the space for special events and concerts, the first of which was held July 16.

The grand opening of The Venue was a concert with Grammy-nominated rap duo the Ying Yang Twins. Williams says that despite some technical setbacks, he thought the show went well.

"There were power issues, light issues, and sound issues," said Williams. "We didn't make a ton of money, but it was more about getting people out to see The Venue."

The next concert, planned for Saturday, July 30, will feature Lambsbread, a roots reggae band on tour from Kauai.

In addition to the headlining act, a handful of Oregon reggae bands will take the stage. Organizers will collect food as a benefit for ACCESS Inc. (Correction: The affiliation with ACCESS has been clarified in this story.)

More information about The Venue can be found by visiting medfordvenue.com, stopping by the location at 1029 Narregan St. or by calling 541-622-6086 or 877-779-7995.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.