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Popular Salt Lake climbing gym gets $2M loan from city for big expansion

Dec 16, 2023, 4:42 PM

A sign on the exterior of the Front Climbing Club is pictured on Friday in Salt Lake City. This wee...

A sign on the exterior of the Front Climbing Club is pictured on Friday in Salt Lake City. This week, city officials approved a $2 million loan to help the Front Climbing Club complete its first three parts of a major expansion project. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)

(Carter Williams, KSL.com)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Front Climbing Club, a popular gym with large climbing walls in Salt Lake City’s Ballpark neighborhood, is getting a boost from the city as it grows its flagship location into an even larger campus.

Members of the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City board, who are also members of the Salt Lake City Council, voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $2 million loan to help owner Rocky Ventures complete the first three phases of an ambitious four-part plan to expand the facility.

The project is expected to add about 30 to 40 new jobs and bring new life to a vacant building in the area, RDA officials say.

“We’re becoming a climbing mecca of the United States because we have the Wasatch Mountains and all the climbing they do here. It seems like everyone wants to come to Utah who is a climber, and I think the Front is showing that — they’re expanding,” Salt Lake City Councilman Dan Dugan, who also serves as the board’s vice chairman, told KSL.com. “I’m excited for it.”

The Front, which relocated to its current location near 1500 South and 400 West in 1998 after it first opened in Sandy in 1989, offers other physical activities, as well as a community gathering space, in addition to climbing. The location received a major addition in 2016, and its owners opened other locations in Ogden and Millcreek in the past decade.

The new plan expands the Salt Lake City campus further. Rocky Ventures recently acquired a vacant warehouse directly north of its two buildings and it’s working to connect the warehouse with the two buildings it already owns and operates out of, according to publicly available Salt Lake City documents.

Rocky Ventures didn’t immediately respond to KSL.com’s request for comment, but the company did provide a packet of information to the city about what it plans to add. The first three phases of the plan will allow for new climbing walls, climbing training areas, fitness studios, a courtyard as well as bathrooms, showers and infrastructure improvements.

A map of the three buildings that Rocky Ventures, Inc. owns in Salt Lake City. The furthest right building is an abandoned warehouse the company recently acquired. It and the middle building are highlighted because they are undergoing the largest renovations.
A map of the three buildings that Rocky Ventures, Inc. owns in Salt Lake City. The furthest right building is an abandoned warehouse the company recently acquired. It and the middle building are highlighted because they are undergoing the largest renovations. (Photo: Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City)

Construction has already started from the company’s cash reserves and the loan will help it “complete the project quicker and begin offering expanded services sooner,” Austin Taylor, project manager for the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, wrote in a city report.

All three phases are on pace to be completed by May 2024, adding about 70,000 square feet of new gym space.

Taylor told the RDA board the company reached out to the city for a loan after banks had denied it loans “several times” because of “uncertainty in the market right now.”

“Banks are tightening their credit; they’re not looking to lend as much, especially opportunistic investments like climbing gyms,” he said. “To a bank, it’s an unknown business model so they’re a little more skittish to lend on a climbing gym.”

But the project had enough benefits to fit an RDA loan and falls within the southwest corner of its State Street project area. Taylor also noted that Rocky Ventures is in good standing with its debt service tied to a smaller loan Salt Lake City approved for the 2016 expansion project.

Rocky Ventures says it will cover about $3 million for the rest of the $5 million plan. The three-year loan comes with an estimated 5.3% interest rate, with a 20-year amortization period, according to Taylor.

A fourth phase of the project, not included in the loan, seeks to raise the roof of the warehouse to add World Cup and Olympic-style route and bouldering walls, among other things. That’s expected to cost another $8 million, according to the Rocky Ventures’ application document.

RDA officials say this is currently expected to begin in June 2024 and take about a year to complete. Company officials wrote that they believe it will have a major impact on the neighborhood.

“Our expansion project will revitalize, preserve, and repurpose previously used and unused (warehouses) along 400 West, integrating them with our existing facility, resulting in a positive contribution to the surrounding neighborhood,” the company wrote in its application.

Officials add that they anticipate the entire project will increase revenue by $25 million in the five years after it is completed.

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Popular Salt Lake climbing gym gets $2M loan from city for big expansion