Largest Downtown Climbing Gym

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Photo: timesfreepress.com

Chattanooga, Tennessee is about to change the face of their downtown with a 28,000 sq. foot climbing gym and retail center making it the largest downtown climbing gym in the US. The $6.5 million project is expected to open October 2013 and house outdoor retailer, Rock/Creek which will open a 4,000-square foot store, which will sit next to a 1,600-square-foot coffee shop.

According to Timesfreepress.com High Point Climbing and Fitness, will have added 20 jobs to the U-shaped complex, which will retain the parking garage on its upper floors. The formerly vacant interior space will include a bouldering area as well.

“There will be numerous bouldering walls that will include a wave wall, mushroom, arch, moon wall, campus wall, adjustable wall, and a 70-foot long cave in the main bouldering room,” said John Wiygul, partner and general manager of High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Not counting the boulders, the complex will support up to 87 climbers at once, including a number of auto-belays.

But the biggest draw isn’t what’s on the inside. It’s the building’s exterior that will set jaws wagging throughout the country, White said.

In this case, tourists on Broad Street will be able to look across the Tennessee Aquarium’s plaza and watch climbers scramble up 14 climbing anchors spread across the exterior face of The Block.  Constructed of translucent plastic panels that each can withstand thousands of pounds of pressure as well as earthly elements like wind and the sun, the geometric skin of the facility will serve both as an architectural statement and a challenge to would-be climbers.

Lights behind the 55-foot high climbing panels will brighten the night, and two specially designed speed climbing lanes will allow Chattanooga to host international climbing competitions, as well as offer practice opportunities to climbers who don’t mind an audience.

The project has ballooned by $2.5 million from its original projections, which called for a $4 million building. But doing something that’s never been done before isn’t easy, said Jim Williamson, vice president of planning and development for River City Co. Even finding a place for the 40-foot indoor climbing walls was a challenge.

“For this to be a premiere site, they need to be at least 40 feet,” he said. “We only had 20 feet, and there are 600 cars above you so you can’t raise the roof.”

So they dug out the concrete floor — an expensive, time-consuming process, but one that was a prerequisite to being taken seriously by the climbing community. The same pit can also be used to train emergency responders by inserting a length of drainpipe to simulate a well or other confined space into which a person might fall and require rescue.

Get Out Chattanooga is reporting:

Not everyone is thrilled to see that downtown’s new landmark will be a climbing gym.

“I believe that the High Point Climbing Gym will have an immediate effect on the other two climbing gyms that are operating in town,” says Rebecca Robran, co-owner of Urban Rocks Gym off of Amnicola Highway. “Chattanooga may grow to the point where it can sustain three commercial facilities but it is not there right now. The question is whether or not the existing mom and pop facilities can keep their doors open long enough to meet the market growth.”

For their part, the Block creators say they don’t want to put anyone out of business and believe the gym will raise awareness of climbing and generate more interest for all of the area’s climbing facilities. O’Brien says Boulder, Colo. has four climbing gyms that are all thriving.

“I think this will elevate everyone else,” Wheeler says.

Robran is not convinced. “With Boulder as an example, there are four commercial facilities there but all the facilities were built not with the idea of potential growth in the town but because the existing facilities were severely overcrowded throughout the year,” she explains. “Chattanooga’s market has not reached that point for the two existing facilities yet.”

Luis Rodriguez, who opened the city’s first climbing gym, Tennessee Bouldering Authority in 1999, says he is not worried.

“We’re not going to be in direct competition at all,” he explains. “It’s not going to hurt us; it’s going to help us by raising awareness for climbing.” Rodriguez says TBA is set up more as a “basement, hole in the wall” bouldering gym than a flashy setup with rope and high walls.

He hopes the gym will be a landmark and help bring a national or international climbing festival to the area. “It’s going to become like the Aquarium,” he says. “It’s going to be known as part of downtown.”