Salt Lake City close to 99-year lease decision with USA Climbing over new training facility

A rendering of a new USA Climbing training center that would be located in the area of 310 S. 500 West in Salt Lake City.

A rendering of a new USA Climbing training center that would be located in the area of 310 S. 500 West in Salt Lake City. (USA Climbing via Salt Lake City)


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SALT LAKE CITY — While USA Climbing is gearing its athletes up for the gold in Paris this summer, its executives are inching closer with plans to construct a new headquarters in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande District.

The Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City is close to voting on offering a 99-year ground lease agreement with USA Climbing at 310 S. 500 West. After a discussion about the proposed ground lease on Tuesday, its board — composed of Salt Lake City Council members — is expected to resume discussions next month, where it could vote on the offer.

If approved, the vote would launch an "exclusive negotiation agreement" discussion between the Redevelopment Agency and USA Climbing as the two sides work toward a final lease deal, according to Ashley Ogden, a senior project manager for the Redevelopment Agency.

"Long term, the project would bring awareness to Salt Lake as a world-class climbing destination … (and) help activate the district during off-peak hours and through the multiday events they plan to host each year," she said about the project.

USA Climbing, the sport's governing body, relocated its headquarters from Colorado to Utah in 2018. Its search for a permanent headquarters ultimately led it to a section of Redevelopment Agency land tucked between Rio Grande Depot and Salt Lake City Central Station.

That led to a project that now focuses on three key items:

  • A 45,000-square-foot climbing facility with bouldering, lead and speed climbing walls. The building, which could max out at 65-75 feet in height, would feature spaces open to customers and exclusive spaces for the U.S. National Team members.
  • The rehabilitation of the historic Salt Lake Mattress Company building that can be used for USA Climbing offices, as well as food, beverage and retail space.
  • A new outdoor plaza that can be used for both USA Climbing events and other public events. It would be designed to hold 3,500-5,000 spectators.

Utah lawmakers allocated $15 million toward the project last year. USA Climbing's board of directors voted last month to advance discussions with Momentum Climbing and Touchstone Climbing with the national training center.

Construction could begin as early as next summer, and the new facility could be up and running in time to be considered for the host site of a major 2027 qualifying event for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, according to a city document.

But most of Tuesday's discussion centered on the lease the Redevelopment Agency is preparing to offer after ongoing negotiations with USA Climbing. Ogden explained the calculation that went into the normal lease rate for the land and triggers that adjust that lease every five years.

She added that USA Climbing is seeking a "lease abatement," where it wouldn't pay for lease rates over the first six years of the deal, as the organization goes through construction and building stabilization.

A building located at the corner of 300 South and 500 West is pictured on Tuesday. The building that once housed Utah's art collection is located on the site of a proposed plaza tied to USA Climbing's plans.
A building located at the corner of 300 South and 500 West is pictured on Tuesday. The building that once housed Utah's art collection is located on the site of a proposed plaza tied to USA Climbing's plans. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

It would pay 45-55% of an escalated annual lease rate between years 7 and 9, and 60% of the rate throughout the rest of the 99-year lease. That latter equates to a little over $227,000 per year based on the current estimated cost. Under USA Climbing's proposal, the lease would only cover primary structures while the outdoor plaza is leased at no cost.

In return, the Redevelopment Agency would provide over $7.3 million toward demolition, environmental remediation and other project costs, Ogden said. Most of that would go toward renovating the historic building at the site and constructing an outdoor plaza.

There could be other costs, such as relocating state employees temporarily working in the historic building and a $31 million shared parking garage planned for the area that USA Climbing —and other future tenants in the district — could lease.

Ogden said the deal has benefits beyond making Salt Lake City a "world-class climbing destination." She views it as an "exciting use" that could attract more tenants to the "largely vacant" Rio Grande District west of downtown.

"This is an opportunity to have something tangible happening as we work to finalize the district plan," she said.

The agency's board appeared cautiously optimistic about it. Salt Lake City Councilman Alejandro Puy, the board's chairman, pointed out that many residents are "anxious to see something happening in this area," but he and others also asked what would happen if the plan fizzles out.

"I think it has the potential to be exciting and invigorating for the neighborhood like we hope it is. But given that it's a nonprofit, who knows what happens?" said Councilman Darin Mano.

Tuesday's update comes as the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City appears to have cleared up the "drama" that had developed in recent months between USA Climbing and The Front Climbing Club, a popular climbing gym in Salt Lake City's Ballpark neighborhood.

The Redevelopment Agency decided last month to move forward with a $2 million loan to help The Front complete the first three phases of its expansion plan, which was initially approved last year. It was put on "pause" earlier this year as the agency reexamined its deal following complaints The Front's ownership made against USA Climbing's desire to include a commercial climbing gym in its plans.

Agency officials said they believe there is "enough financial stability" for both gyms to operate.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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