Bankrupt Retailer Makes Way For America’s Largest Climbing Gym

Earth Trek’s latest gym will repurpose a 52,000 square-foot Sports Authority building into America’s largest climbing center.

Climbing wall at Earth Treks Crystal City gym in Arlington, Va. At 42,000 sq. ft., it’s 10,000 sq. ft. smaller than the forthcoming Englewood, Colo., location.

As big-box retailers fold, massive real estate and the buildings that housed them sit unused. But the latest development by Earth Treks Climbing and Fitness could pave the way for more plus-size climbing gyms that fill those spaces.

This month, Earth Treks announced it will repurpose the shuttered, 52,000-sq.-ft. Sports Authority building in Englewood, Colo., into the largest climbing gym in the U.S. The company expects to open the gym in late 2017 or 2018.

For reference, a football field is 57,600 sq. ft.

Big Box Climbing

The Englewood location will be Earth Trek‘s sixth gym. The brand began as a rock- and ice-climbing guide service, founded in 1990 by alpine guide Chris Warner. Earth Treks slid into the growing climbing gym craze in 1997.

bouldering wall crystal city earth treks
Bouldering wall at the Crystal City Earth Treks in Arlington, Va.

Since then, Earth Treks spread across the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC (where it’s headquartered) areas. According to the brand’s chief operating officer, Chris Jenkins, Earth Treks is all about going bigger.

“We’re always looking for new spaces that will be big enough for what we do,” he told us. “A lot of other gyms go in at about 25,000 square feet. We are typically 35,000 or more.”

Feeding that demand for space can be costly, and more importantly, difficult to come by in urban areas where indoor climbing is particularly in demand.

Earth Treks’ move signals a potential new avenue of growth. Big-box chains have fallen on hard times as brands consolidate and online retail grows. Sports Authority, headquartered in Englewood at the future Earth Treks location, went belly up last year. That spelled opportunity for growing businesses in need of space and landlords.

“The traditional big box model isn’t doing great,” Jenkins said. “As a result, the landlords want to fill the spaces with new tenants that can reinvigorate the project.”

Jenkins said, historically landlords “didn’t originally like or understand” the potential of climbing gyms vying for big real estate against retail chains. Now, however, “they understand it better,” he said.

Earth Treks Englewood Climbing Gym

The new Englewood facility will be more than 10,000 sq. ft. larger than the brand’s current leader, Crystal City in Arlington, Va.

Englewood sketch earth treks
Sketch of the upcoming Englewood, Colo., Earth Treks climbing gym

The facility will be the largest by footprint in the country. There’s no word on the area of climbable surfaces, but Jenkins told us that design is expected within a month.

In addition to rope climbing, the gym will have a bouldering area, retail shop and outfitter, cardio and fitness center, and childcare facility.

Walltopia is the firm charged with developing Earth Treks Englewood climbing structures.

So far, the brand announced that it will begin construction in August, with a stated opening date in 2018, but a possibility of opening sooner. Among other modifications to the space, Earth Treks will raise the building’s roof to accommodate its tallest wall.

Jenkins said while the brand won’t specifically target other big box stores, Earth Treks might have another big announcement to make “pretty soon.”

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.

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