RDA board approves development agreement with USA Climbing – without seeing its business plan 

On Tuesday the RDA Board paved the way for the USA Climbing, the non-profit which oversees competitive climbing in the country, to build a new HQ and national training center in the Rio Grande District at 310 S. 500 West.

The Redevelopment Agency has long tried to spark development in Station Center Rio Grande District, and is looking to the USA Climbing (USAC) project to provide kindling.

USAC’s agreement with the city, which includes a heavily-discounted land lease and $7.3 million toward construction costs, has been delayed due to a controversy in the climbing community.

The national training center’s revenue model includes selling memberships and day passes, which attracted the ire of one local gym owner and condemnation from the larger climbing community nationwide. 

With the delay out of the way, RDA staff has been keen to get the agreement approved by the Board and final terms hammered out with USAC. 

During the briefing, staff revealed that they had only recently put into the agreement an RDA review of the project’s operating pro-forma. 

That review is yet to be done, yet the Board green lighted the term sheet in a 4-1 vote. 

Little pushback

The lone dissenter, District 5’s Darin Mano, asked whether specific performance measures for activation and events were written into the agreement.

“This is very critical land…as the city we are giving a lot and expecting quite a bit in terms of activating the neighborhood,” Mano stated. “So I’m wondering, what happens if it doesn’t activate the neighborhood?”

“What happens if USA Climbing is not successful, what does success actually mean: is it the number of visitors that come to the district, is it financial success?”

Staff responded that visitors numbers and other activation data are difficult to measure, but that the agreement contains a number of actions the city can take if USAC doesn’t live up to its commitments.

Those include filing a breach of contract claim, terminating the ground lease, seeking damages and injunctive relief.

Mano continued, “The reason I mentioned this is that if this gets as far as executing the lease agreement and building the structure, this is not one that is easily adapted to a different use in the future.”

Project manager Ashley Ogden noted that staff had made only one change in the term sheet since last month’s briefing. It added a provision that “will require the RDA to look into USA Climbing’s projected operating pro-forma, to basically ensure that they have a solid business plan…so that we don’t end up in a situation like you described where we have a very single-purpose building on our property that we now own.”

The USAC National Training Center is estimated to cost $30 million, and will be anchored by a new primary structure “about 65-75 feet tall with a roughly 45,000 sf footprint,” according to RDA documents.

RDA staff will now huddle with USAC leadership to execute a final agreement in the coming months. USAC’s website says “We hope to break ground on the NTC in 2025 and complete it in time to prepare our athletes for the LA 2028 Olympic Games.”

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.