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Kootenay Climbing Association pitches Nelson city council on locations for new home

The organization says it has outgrown the Cube Climbing Gym
The Kootenay Climbing Association is looking for a location to build a $4.2-million indoor climbing facility. Illustration: City of Nelson agenda

by Timothy Schafer

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

As the Nelson’s climbing club looks to solve its popularity problems with a larger, world-class facility, it first has to get a handle on the first tenet of successful business: location.

It was with location in mind that several members of the Kootenay Climbing Association (KCA) appeared before city council during its committee-of-the-whole meeting Tuesday night in council chambers.

The group has more than outgrown its current Selkirk College 10th Street campus location — the Cube Climbing Gym — and, in response, had put together a plan, including financials, with an eye toward building a new indoor climbing facility, Cube 2.0.

Four potential sites were suggested with an estimated cost of $4.2 million — $2.5 million expected to come in the form of COVID “kick start” grants — with 824 Front St. (adjacent to the Nelson and District Community Complex and Nelson Curling Club), 309 Hall St. (adjacent to the Civic Arena), 719 Vernon Street (inside the Civic Arena) and 820 10th St. (near Selkirk College’s Mary Hall) making the short wish list.

The impetus, wherewithal and the vision were on display, but KCA needed the city to agree to let them use a piece of land the group could lease for $1 per year while it paid down the debt it would incur.

Before the discussion of location was broached, Councillor Janice Morrison wondered if KCA had a contingency built into the plan’s numbers or if it would be further fleshed out as the project moved ahead.

“I just keep going back to how the cost of everything has escalated, and I’m just listening to this time line and it sounds like there’s still some design stuff that has to go on,” she said. “I’m just looking at supply chain issues and how you might be dealing with them.”

KCA member Brian Hansen said the original financial plan was updated from the 2019 figures to more accurately reflect the rise in material costs, and he noted a 20 per cent increase across the board, with a 110 per cent increase in climbing foam, largely produced in Russia and Ukraine.

KCA member Cam Shute was quick to jump into the discussion of the cost of the project at this stage.

“We have not green lighted the design phase yet because we don’t really have a site,” he said. “That’s really the first step is to get a site and then we can start the process. We need to be able to fund it and get the granting in place. So there’s a bunch of steps ahead of the building and the design (phase).”

The location on Front Street as part of the city’s recreation campus with the Nelson and District Community Complex would be the most ideal location, said Councillor Keith Page.

“How urgent, realistically, would you be if something like Front Street could be on the table?” he asked. “Would you be able to weigh the need to get an answer now and try to grab onto some of this available COVID funding versus taking that risk of waiting longer and letting the process kind of play out to see if this could be something more and incorporated into the recreation campus?”

Page pointed to the KCA’s own survey that found 74 per cent of people wanted the Cube 2.0 in the recreation campus.

“The question really is does this urgency really serve the long-term large vision of climbing and is it really a game stopper if it needs to take a bit longer to get a better location?”

Shute said the club was quite flexible and was looking to work with the city in whatever way it could to obtain a site.

“Our nudge was, if we can do it simply we are not worried about people not being able to find us. If we have a world-class facility in Nelson, people will find us,” he said. “If the city can get behind us and we can do it in the recreation campus, that would be phenomenal. We are just afraid that that may take a very long time.”

Shute said the KCA is hindered from applying for grants to develop a schematic design for the gym because it does not have a location that has been approved or endorsed by the City of Nelson.

With a location approved by the city and other key stakeholders the KCA would move forward to undertake a conceptual design study with a construction cost estimate for a new facility.

The Cube is the only climbing gym in the Nelson area. In addition to providing 280 square metres (3,000 square feet) of climbable surfaces, the Cube also runs after-school climbing programs for youth, adult programs like Women’s Wednesdays and local bouldering competitions.

For nine years since it opened, the Cube has seen its usage more than double (from 4,000 climber check-ins annually to 9,000), and its annual membership increase more than 400 per cent. In the same time period, participation in after-school programs has increased 460 per cent (from 58 to 268 kids).

“Perhaps most notably, the Cube is unable to service all the interested youth in our community because it’s too small — in 2021, every youth program was filled with a wait list,” said KCA member Jayme Moye. “The current facility is too small to accommodate Olympic-regulation rope-climbing walls and speed- climbing walls.”