The Front climbing gym to expand with $2 million RDA loan

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In the currently hostile borrowing environment, a thriving business in the Ballpark neighborhood unable to get a conventional bank loan has received support from the city for its $5 million building renovation and expansion project.

At 1470 South 400 West, pressed up against I-15, The Front climbing gym has sat in its current location since 1998. A 2016 expansion brought a 60-foot wall and national exposure through hosting competitions.

The Front also operates two other locations, one in Millcreek and another in Ogden.

Current plans for The Front HQ project in Salt Lake City consist of adaptive reuse of two existing light industrial buildings as well as raising a tall new climbing wall.

Last week the RDA Board approved a $2 million loan at 5.10% to local owner Rocky Ventures. Construction has already begun on a four-phase project, beginning at 1420 and 1450 South 400 West.

The Front’s five parcels reside just southwest of the Wal-Mart at 1300 South and 300 West. Like much of Ballpark, it is starting to transition away from light industrial and retail supply uses.

The site and project

The Front HQ’s parcels are zoned CG General Commercial and cover 3.85 acres. The two buildings involved in the RDA-funded portion of the project are at 1420 and 1450 South 400 West, both concrete masonry warehouses.

Images courtesy SLC RDA.

The structure at 1450 South is the home of the site’s original climbing gym. The adaptive reuse and renovation of these two buildings will add climbing walls, including a “significant vertical addition,” fitness studios, gender-neutral bathrooms, showers, a staff break room, storage, and necessary mechanical systems.

The additions will allow The Front to host additional competitions to the several USA Climbing events currently held each year, according to its loan application.

Photo courtesy The Front.

The loan

Applicant Rocky Ventures explained to RDA staff that banks were hesitant to lend on an “opportunistic” investment like a climbing gym, and were insisting on refinancing the entire assemblage at today’s interest rates.

The 60% equity contribution by the business, and its good payment history with the city’s economic development loan fund on a $350,000 note on its 2016 construction project, helped secure the RDA as the project’s primary lender. It passed both the RDA’s Loan Committee and Board with unanimous votes.

The Front owner Dustin Buckthal brought $3 million in equity and satisfied most of the RDA’s requirements for the $2 million loan, yet needed some several minor exceptions, thus landing on the RDA Board’s agenda.

The interest rate started at 7.60%, per RDA policy – the US Treasury rate plus 3%. Here’s how the final 5.10% was determined:

The loan has a 20-year amortization with a renegotiation after 3 years.

The public benefits

The loan proposal notes the adaptive reuse of two buildings, added public amenities (public art), 30-40 jobs created, the economic impact of re-investment by local owners, and The Front’s current traffic – over 1000 check-ins a day.

The RDA states “The expansion is projected to directly increase property valuation by $5 million as well as increase the valuation of surrounding properties by enhancing existing property and increasing foot traffic which could reduce crime. Project revenue increase of $25 million over five years is projected to generate $2 million in local and state sales tax.”

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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.