$3M Riverfront Rock Gym opens to brisk business


Riverfront Rock Gym

Wenatchee now has a state-of-the-art rock wall gym where families can gather late into the evening while climbing high on a fiberglass-resin studded wall or lying low at the observation-deck snack bar. In either case, it gives kids and those young at heart something to do after 6 p.m. seven days a week.
"Rock climbers in Wenatchee needed an indoor climbing gym to stay in shape over the winter months," said Stewart Hoover, co-owner of the $3.1 million dollar investment.
That figure includes ownership of the land, the two buildings and the huge indoor recreation playland complete with showers, exercise equipment, a small restaurant with seating and a training room.
Hoover and wife ThanhVan Tran, Mark Shipman and Flint Hartwig invested managed to raise $1 million and borrow the rest with the help of the Small Business Administration and U.S. Bank which financed the remaining $2.1 million.
"The project was about 80 percent finished before the partners received the loan, but we appreciate the way the SBA and U.S. Bank worked with us to finish the job," Hoover said.
Hartwig wore many hats. He owned the land, acted as builder and investor. The partners hired Forte Architects, decorated the walls with rope-themed art by Phil Yenney, placed $65,000 worth of solar panels on the roof and also hired Troy Bassett of Precision Water Jet to do signage.
Blue Star Coffee is featured at the Last Pitch Cafe which also carries bagels, snacks, energy, sport and protein drinks. Local craft beer by Icicle and Badger Mountain Breweries, soft drinks, sandwiches and a variety of snacks including cookies and salads. The name of the cafe has nothing to do with baseball. "Last Pitch" refers to the last segment of a climb before reaching the summit or whatever goal was aimed for. The cafe seating area serves as a perfect viewing lounge for those below actually climbing various wall configurations either freestyle or with ropes.
"It's a great place to socialize, to meet and hang out," Hoover said.
As far as safety, Shipman said statistics show that more injuries occur on a badminton court than in a rock climbing gym.   
Hoover and Shipman are proud to point out that their solar panel array is the largest in Wenatchee and will pay for itself in electric savings in a few years. The SBA-backed loan is a 10-year note.
Gym industry experts say about 100 "check-ins" a day are needed to break even and the Riverfront crew have averaged at least that and up to 200 on some days so far. The busiest time is between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. which coincides with the letting out of school and the end of the workday for most folks.
"Rock climbing will be in the 2020 Olympics," Hoover said. Riverfront plans on sponsoring climbing races in the future and said the popularity of the sport has "exploded" in the last 10 years.
The first full day of operations was Monday, Feb. 27. People wishing to climb are given a brief certification, sign a waiver and are also able to purchase a variety of climbing equipment including specialty shoes, harness and other items.
Group activities, training classes and prepaid, individual and family memberships are also available. The Riverfront Rock Gym is located at 1319 Walla Walla Avenue immediately adjacent to the park of the same name.
Hours of operation are 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 509-888-2427 for more information.

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