River City Co. will transform the former Bijou Theater in downtown Chattanooga into a large-scale rock climbing destination by July 2013, officials will announce today.
Customers will be able to climb a rock wall or shop for gear at the downtown attraction, which workers hope to complete in time for the summer tourism season in 2013, said Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co.
The 16,000-square-foot space will undergo a name change as part of the transformation, though White declined to reveal what the attraction will be called in advance of an announcement today at 11 a.m.
River City Co. crews already are digging deep into the earth to make room for a large climbing wall in the former theater on the block between Broad and Chestnut Streets beneath CARTA's Shuttle South parking lot.
"This is going to be the regional epicenter for rock climbing," White said.
The attraction is designed to take advantage of Chattanooga's growing reputation as an outdoor-centric community, after the town was named Outside Magazine's No. 1 destination.
White hopes that tourists will add the new climbing attraction to their list of things to do, as the Scenic City is renowned for its varied climbing routes.
"This will take Chattanooga's reputation as a great place for climbing and elevate it to the next level," she said. "The demand for this is huge."
The new climbing facility will make three rock climbing gyms in the city, after Urban Rocks Gym and the Tennessee Bouldering Authority.
The project will displace the Visitor's Center, which will move out of the space by the end of the year, said Bob Doak, head of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
"There will be a period when we'll be closed, but the good news is it's a slow time for tourism so it won't be that big of a negative," Doak said. "Coming into spring, we'll hopefully be able to come up with a plan or project and have it ready to go by the beginning of the tourist season next year."
The attraction makes sense, according to Phillp Grymes of Outdoor Chattanooga, because "Chattanooga is surrounded by rock.
"There's world-class climbing here," Grymes said. "Within 45 minutes of downtown Chattanooga there's more cimbing than any one person could ever do in their lifetime."
The site's proximity to the Tennessee Aquarium will ensure that it's a popular tourist draw, he said, and will expose visitors to the climbing opportunities throughout the Chattanooga area.
"If it is a world-class climbing wall, then the climbers in this community will support it," he said.