Salt Lake City Reneges on Previously Approved $2M Loan to Local Climbing Gym

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Salt Lake City's Redevelopment Agency announced this week that it will withhold a previously approved $2 million loan to The Front Climbing Club for a renovation and expansion project on the city's largest indoor climbing facility. 

Redevelopment Agency director Danny Walz sent a letter to The Front owner Dustin Buckthal stating that the money would be withheld over the Buckthal's passionate opposition to a deal between the city and USA Climbing's new headquarters, training center and public gym near The Gateway. 

“Your actions raise concerns that we need to resolve before we continue to move forward on your loan,” Walz wrote, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Consequently, we are pausing progress on your loan at this time.”

The move comes after the Salt Lake RDA approved a $2 million loan for The Front, after the gym failed to secure funding from a bank. 

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City was moving forward with a plan to put USA Climbing at the corner of 500 West and 300 South in the Station Center area, a swath between the Rio Grande Depot and Utah Transit Authority intermodal hub. The area has been envisioned as a bustling neighborhood of dense housing, and the city considered USA Climbing’s facility “catalytic” to that concept.

That plan faced opposition from local and national gym owners, and the RDA pulled its plan from a Jan. 9 agenda, allowing USA Climbing time to work with gym operators to find an alternative solution that is agreeable to all parties. 

Buckthal said he supports USA Climbing building an elite facility, but he opposed the building of a publicly accessible training center, but he also said he doesn't understand why his thoughts on the matter should impact the city's loan to The Front. 

“It’s fine to have disagreements on what the best use of funds are or what this training center’s commercial aspect will do to the organization. That’s what’s happening right now, is that discussion at [USA Climbing] level [and] at the industry level,” Buckthal said. “But now I can’t even oppose the idea of the training center without it impacting my business. What’s going to happen when it’s actually here?”

In his letter to Buckthal, Walz wrote that Buckthal was trying "quash" the USA Climbing project by asserting that the community could not support additional gyms, but that's in opposition to what Buckthal contended when he asked for the money, citing growth potential in the market. 

“Your actions have put the RDA in a position where it cannot support two diametrically opposed projects,” Walz wrote to Buckthal. “As such, we are pausing progress on your loan as we consider your claims that the mutual success of both the expansion of The Front and USA Climbing’s [national training center] is impossible. If this is the case, then our original understanding of your project was misconceived, and we need to reexamine that understanding.”

Buckthal said that his expansion of The Front is already underway and losing that funding would be detrimental to the gym's plans. “I don’t know what we’re going to do” if the city revokes its loan, he said, “but this puts us in a really bad spot.”

Walz said all he is asking is that the two parties get along. 

“While we work through our concerns,” he wrote, “we strongly encourage you to work cooperatively with USA Climbing on mutually beneficial solutions so we can resume moving forward.”

But Buckthal said the only way things will work is if USA Climbing builds a training gym that isn't publicly accessible. 

“There’s pretty significant concern that this project will bankrupt the organization,” Buckthal said. “It’s a huge climbing gym they want to build. It’s almost twice the size of The Front location. It’s very close to The Front and, generally, that’s just a really big climbing gym to try and support.”

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