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The Block - A State of The Art Climbing Center

Chattanooga, the fourth-largest city in the U.S. state of Tennessee surrounded by various mountains and ridges has always been , mainly due to its location at the junction of the Cumberland Plateau and the southern Appalachians, a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, especially rock climbers. No wonder one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in Chattanooga's history turning an old theatre into what was later named The Block, a state-of-the-art climbing center was created. We got in touch with Amy Donahue, Marketing & Communications Manager from River City Company to ask couple of questions regarding this interesting project. Read on.
The Block - A State of The Art Climbing Center

For over 28 years, River City Company, a private non-profit group, has worked in partnership with local government, focusing on economic development in Downtown Chattanooga. The company was given a unique opportunity to capitalize on a building that was located in the tourism area of the city but architecturally was an eye sore of a several story parking garage and an old, vacant movie theater. And that's where the story behind the creation of the state-of-the-art climbing center begins. 

A:How did the idea of The Block come about? 

The idea for The Block really came out of Chattanooga’s reputation as a premier outdoor city. Although we had all of these great natural resources surrounding downtown, we were missing that physical representation of our outdoor reputation in the heart of our city.

A:What started it and was it influenced by Chattanooga's rock climbing community?

The idea for the climbing gym really flourished out of local partnerships and entrepreneurial spirit. River City Company approached Rock/Creek, our locally owned and operated outdoor outfitters that has four storefronts in Chattanooga and an incredible online sales business, with the possibility of opening a retail concept in the space. Although the Rock/Creek team was excited and wanted to capitalize on the opportunity, the space was too large for a single tenant. Being that they were a local company and immersed in the outdoor scene, they knew of a duo in town, John Wiygul and John O’Brien, that were interested in building a state of the art climbing facility.

The introductions were made, and the idea of The Block and High Point Climbing and Fitness started coming together. The development was absolutely influenced by Chattanooga’s climbing community. Through our research on this project, we discovered that areas with abundant natural rock also successfully support climbing gyms due to the demand for climbing in these areas and the unique features gyms can provide the clientele in addition to a casual climber or tourist.

A: Was it hard to find a place for such a project?

With this particular project, we started with a location and worked our way backwards. Most climbing gyms in the U.S. are located in industrial areas due to the sheer amount of square footage needed to make a viable gym. With the location’s former life as a several screen movie theater, we had some room to work with. Furthermore, we had to dig down into the ground 16 feet to create the over 40 feet of vertical climbing in the area of the gym known as the pit.

But being cautious of improving the building’s look and to create a climbing experience that you could only get in Chattanooga, the exterior climbing feature which is 11,000 square feet with 5,000 square feet of functional climbing space with two international regulation speed climbing walls was born. The exterior doubles as a truly unique climbing experience and a public art piece.

A: Who designed it and how long did it take to complete?

The Block was designed by Craig Peavy while at River Street Architecture, LLC, but he has recently formed pvdesign, inc. on his own.Concept to completion took fourteen months.

A: Tell us something about what climbers can expect inside.

High Point offers 28,000 square feet of climbing surface. There are 23+ auto belays, top ropes, lead climbing and two bouldering areas.  The outdoor wall features two 15 meter speed walls (there are currently only a few in the country).  Inside there is up to 40 vertical feet of climbing in the pit. High Point also has multiple training areas – aerobic, weight, and yoga rooms to fingerboards, rock rings, campus wall, and a Moon Wall.   The facility can accommodate a wide range of climbers; from beginners with no prior experience to professional athletes looking to take their training to the next level. There is a flow in the gym that gives everyone their own space to climb with similar abilities.

A: Do you organize local climbing competitions in there and are you planning on hosting any world-class events in the future?

High Point is hosting the Deep South Regional ABS Bouldering Competition on December 6, 2014.  The facility is capable of hosting a word class event; there are the 15 meter speed walls outside, 40 foot lead wall inside, and over 200 horizontal linear feet of bouldering.

A: Chattanooga is surrounded by various mountains and ridges. If anybody is interested in climbing real rocks, should his first steps lead to the Block to take advice?  

Yes, High Point features The Climbing School operated by Lisa Rands and Wills Young who take guided trips all around the Chattanooga area. The Climbing School also runs classes, camps, clubs and teams.

A: Are you planning on adding new climbing features?

The Kidz Zone by High Point space is currently under construction and should open in a few weeks . This new feature will add 3,000 more square feet to the facility.  It includes a kid’s bouldering area and 15 more auto belays.  Walltopia has a really great product for kids to learn the sport of rock climbing, and we’re excited to bring that experience to Chattanooga.

A: How much does it cost to enter and do you offer equipment rentals (belays, ropes etc.)?

Day Passes are available to adults for $15 and to children for $13. The shoes and harness package can be rented for $5. In addition, High Point rents ropes, chalk bags, belay devices and helmets. 

A:  What are your future plans within the city, can we look forward to other state-of-the-art facilities being built in Chattanooga that would fulfill any extreme sports enthusiasts needs?

From stand up paddle boarding to extreme mountain biking and trail running, outdoor enthusiasts thrive in the Scenic City. As far as built facilities, Chattanooga is a prime market for outdoor entrepreneurs who can reach a market that both enjoy the natural resources of our area and a corresponding brick and mortar development. As an economic development non-profit, River City Company sees more businesses coming to our area to capitalize on this unique combination.

What else to say? This is a perfect example of how to turn an untilized space into something that our (climbing) community can benefit from. The High Point Climbing And Fitness Gym is open Monday to Sunday, check their website for more and if you ever pay the gym a visit, don't forget to have fun in there!

The High Point Climbing And Fitness Gym Address:


Photos: © RCC, copyright applied.

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