Outdoor Climbing Gym Proposed in East Memphis

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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)


East Memphis commuters may be treated to some eye candy - up to 10 climbers at a time scaling a 40-foot-tall, outdoor climbing wall - if plans for a large climbing gym are approved.

Chattanooga-based High Point Climbing proposes to build a $9 million, 32,000-square-foot climbing and fitness facility at a high-profile intersection just west of Shelby Farms Park.

It's the second substantial rock-climbing project in the works in Memphis. Movie director and philanthropist Tom Shadyac is converting a long-vacant building at 879 E. McLemore in Soulsville into Memphis Rox, a 28,000-square-foot climbing gym and community center.

"The Memphis project will be cool," said High Point Climbing principal Johnny O'Brien of Chattanooga, where passersby often stop and watch climbers at two High Point facilities. High Point's third climbing gym opened early this year in Birmingham.

High Point plans a two-story gym on 2.7 acres at the northwest corner of Walnut Grove and Humphreys Boulevard. The site is now a parking lot immediately east of the Christian Brothers High School baseball field.

"We're an indoor rock climbing gym with an outdoor component," O'Brien said. "We wanted to be close to Shelby Farms" with its biking and running trails, kayaking and other activities. "We think it's a real complement."

High Point Memphis LLC filed an application with the Land Use Control Board to amend the Humphreys Center Planned Development to allow a sports facility there.

The board is to consider the request at its meeting on Sept. 14 at 10 a.m. in City Hall.

High Point Climbing is coming to Memphis for two main reasons: O'Brien's son-in-law and business partner, John Wiygul, grew up in Memphis and Germantown; and the Memphis market is ripe for a climbing gym.

"Memphis has been in the sights of many (climbing) gym developers as a key city to be able to develop a new gym," O'Brien said Tuesday. "Probably one of the top 10 cities in the U.S. That's a result of the overall demographics and the fact there were no climbing gyms in the city. ...

"With us being located within the state we decided we'd better go ahead and take advantage before any other out-of-state developers," he said.

One might not assume there's an abundance of climbers in Memphis, surrounded for many miles by flat delta land or only gentle hills. But the topography will be an advantage for High Point Climbing, O'Brien said.

On a nice weekend in Chattanooga, climbers can travel to natural rock formations in 20 or so minutes as an alternative to the gym, O'Brien said. Not so in Memphis.

"What happens in a city like Memphis, your membership base is more solid and people become more of a community in the gym," O'Brien said. "And they will take a trip on a weekend to an outdoor climbing crag."

High Point's website, highpointclimbing.com, quotes an April 2015 edition of Climbing Magazine as stating High Point is "the country's coolest gym."

In Chattanooga, the outdoor climbing walls feature climbing on transparent climbing material "that is like nothing else," the company's website states.

The Memphis wall will be composed of a different material - molded Fiberglas - that is better for climbing, O'Brien said. The wall will be made in Bulgaria.

Inside the gym, climbing areas are available for all ages and abilities. The space includes a "kid zone."

The gym also provides cross-training, as well as aerobic, weight and yoga facilities with 13 yoga and two spin classes weekly in Chattanooga.

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August 9, 2017


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