Climbing gym plan one step from approval

Climbers at a First Ascent gym.

After years of debate about what to do with Evanston's former Recycling Center, final approval of plans to sell the building for conversion to a rock climbing gym are likely just two weeks away after a vote Monday night.

Aldermen voted 7-2 to sell the building at 2222 Oakton St. to Clark Street Real Estate, LLC, which plans to lease the building to First Ascent Climbing and Fitness, which already operates a half dozen climbing facilities in Illinois.

The city will receive $1.1 million for the 41,000 square foot property and 13,000 square foot building, signficantly more than an $870,000 appraisal from last fall.

Plans call for 20,000 square feet of climbing space with 250 climbing routes, a fitness area and up to 60 yoga and fitness classes a week.

The developer anticipates spending $2.75 million on building infrastrucure and renovation costs with First Ascent to spend $1.5 million on furniture, fixtures and equpment.

They anticipate having 2,000 members at the Evanston facility and several hundred visitors per day.

City staff said it could cost as much as $200,000 a year for the city to lease 30,000 square feet of storage space for public works equipment and materials now located at the recycling center, but said that likely is "a high estimate."

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who had favored leasing the property for an event space, voted against the sale, complaining that the business would generate very little sales tax, because services are exempt from sales tax in Illinois. She added that she wasn't concerned about traffic from the new facility -- saying she didn't think there'd be much.

Rainey was joined by Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, in voting against the sale.

The measure needs another vote by aldermen to be adopted. That's expected at their meeting on Tuesday, May 28, the day after Memorial Day. Because it involves the sale of city property, the measure will need support from two-thirds of the aldermen at that meeting.

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