'Block' climbing: $4 million Bijou site plan caters to growing sport

'Block' climbing: $4 million Bijou site plan caters to growing sport

October 5th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Rendering for proposed climbing wall at former Bijou Theatre. Contributed drawing

Rock Creek owner Dawson Wheeler announces that the former Bijou Theatre will be renamed The Block and be renovated to house Rock Creek's fourth Chattanooga location as well as High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Rock Creek owner Dawson Wheeler announces that the...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Since the Bijou Theatre closed in 2009, downtown planners have eyed a grocery store, roving exhibits and even a bowling alley to fill the space.

By next summer, the key block on Chattanooga's riverfront will hold one of the fastest growing sports nationally as it woos climbers from across the country to the central city.

The co-owner of a business planning a 55-foot-high climbing wall attached to the outside of the six-level building's parking garage said it likely be made of perforated steel, fiberglass or a cement-type material.

"It will look like a real architectural element," said businessman John O'Brien Jr., a co-owner of High Point Climbing and Fitness, about the wall.

The wall will be the most visible feature of the planned $4 million redevelopment of the structure at Third and Broad streets.

On the ground floor of the old theater, local outdoors retailer Rock/Creek Outfitters will open a new 3,800-square-foot store, said owner Dawson Wheeler. He said the business is making "a six-figure investment" with the store focusing on a different product mix, such as on climbing apparel and gear, than in his North Shore unit.

"Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the city and an economic driver," Wheeler said.

O'Brien, who is in the health care business with Chattanoogan Byron DeFoor, said the city can support another climbing gym.

"It's one of the three fastest growing sports in the country," he said.

High Point Climbing will offer indoor climbing as well as the outdoor wall, taking up 16,500 square feet in the building.

John Wiygul, a co-owner in the business, said it will appeal to tourists and local climbers. He said the site will offer a locker room and showers for Chattanooga business people who want a work out.

Wiygul said the outside wall will cover the Broad Street side of the building, with climbing starting just above ground level and going to the top of the parking garage. The wall will range above the breezeway by which CARTA shuttle buses will continue to travel, he said.

Wiygul said the business is investing over $1 million into the project. High Point Climbing, too, will open next summer, he said.

Kim White, who heads the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co., said her group will plow about $1.6 million into the project. She said River City has a long-term lease for the site from owner CARTA.

White said the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau will eventually leave the space in which it has operated at the site, which will boast the new name of "The Block." The CBV hasn't picked another location yet.

White said downtown officials were waiting for the right opportunity for the property.

"We really believe this is it," she said. White said The Block will still have about 5,500 square feet available for rent.

Carmike Cinemas opened the Bijou in 1997. It closed in 2009 when Carmike's Majestic theater opened just across Third Street.