ABOVE: Kootenay Climbing Association president Shawn Tasker and Nelson Squash Club vice-president Pat Hodgson hope their groups can jointly transform the old Civic Theatre into a multi-sport athletic club. BOTTOM: Conceptual sketches.

Climbing gym, squash courts proposed for Civic Theatre

The Nelson Squash Club and Kootenay Climbing Association are proposing to turn the Civic Theatre into a multi-purpose sports facility.

The Nelson Squash Club and newly-established Kootenay Climbing Association are proposing to jointly turn the old Civic Theatre into a multi-purpose sports facility.

Plans for what’s been dubbed the Nelson Downtown Athletic Club call for three 32 by 22 foot squash courts, a 60 by 30 foot climbing gym with 25 to 30 foot ceilings, and two other gyms.

The squash club originally looked at the space for its own use, but approached the climbing group to join them, and together pitched the idea to city council Monday.

Squash club vice-president Pat Hodgson says by teaming up, they believe they can achieve more than either can separately.

“We’re both struggling to find permanent homes,” he says. “We think the Civic Theatre fits the bill perfectly.”

The squash club’s fate is uncertain given ongoing renovations to its longtime space above The Royal, while local climbers are homeless after the closure of the Gravity Climbing Centre.

The new climbing association is not affiliated with Gravity, but counts many of the same people among its 100 members.

“It’s the sort of endeavour that seemed to fit with having partnerships and many user groups,” says president Shawn Tasker. “You have access to much more when you start partnering.”

Separate business plans are being developed for the two major components, but the overall project would be collaborative, and see a common reception area and new change rooms to replace the current washrooms.

Conceptual drawings show the climbing gym and squash courts opposite each other on the lower portion of the present theatre space, and the other two gyms on the upper portion.

One of the latter would have a hardwood floor for basketball, dance, aerobics, and floor hockey, while the other would be left unfinished for another group to develop later.

The preliminary budget is pegged at $350,000 to $400,000, but the groups stress they aren’t asking the city for direct funding.

“We’re not looking for them to spend any money to make this project happen,” Hodgson says.

“There may be some costs incurred by the city to bring the building up to code, but they haven’t been identified, and we haven’t gotten that far into the process yet.”

Although they aren’t seeking a subsidy — and expect to pay for the project through grants, fundraising, and member fees — they do hope the city will underwrite the financing.

Tasker says the proposal dovetails nicely with the many other nearby recreation facilities, including the rec complex, Civic Centre, curling club, and Soccer Quest.

“When we look at it as an amalgamated sporting facility, it makes sense in terms of having everything within a few blocks,” he says.

The two men anticipate some backlash from those who would rather see the theatre once again screen movies, but believe it’s economically unlikely given recent changes in the industry and the capital investment required.

“There’s an emotional attachment to the building in its previous configuration. We understand that,” Hodgson says. “But the motion picture industry has changed tremendously. Everybody would love to see a theatre in town, but you can’t work with the existing space.”

“If nothing has been done with it in almost two years, it doesn’t seem like there is much viability,” Tasker adds. “Maybe an alternative theatre and not a first-run theatre is a better fit for this city. We just want to bring forward an alternative proposal for that space.”

Last week, the city put out another call for proposals for the theatre, which has been vacant since September 2010. A previous leaseholder got as far as ripping out the old seats before plans to refurbish the building fell apart. The deadline for submissions is April 17.

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