January 20, 2018
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New 13,000-square-foot rock climbing gym proposed for Portland

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — New Hampshire-based Evolution Rock & Fitness LLC hopes to build a 13,000-plus-square-foot climbing gym in Portland that will absorb the staff and membership of the established Marginal Way Maine Rock Gym.

Evolution founder and general manager Hilary Harris on Monday told the Bangor Daily News her organization is partnering with the 19-year-old Maine Rock Gym in the 65 Warren Ave. venture, which would be Evolution’s second, joining a similar facility in Concord, N.H.

The Portland Planning Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the project at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

“Portland is just a fantastic market for having a climbing gym like this,” Harris said. “It’s a population that we feel is really progressive and that would support a climbing gym like this … Maine Rock Gym is going to close down their existing facility and their membership will be moved over to Evolution.”

Maine Rock Gym is located at 127 Marginal Way. The gym’s owner, Scott Howard, said Monday the current facility is 2,800 square feet with 24-foot-tall climbing walls. In addition to more than quadrupling the square footage, Howard said the new gym will offer 42-foot-tall climbing walls and space for myriad other fitness activities, such as yoga.

“The new facility is going to be a first-class facility, and we’re ready,” he said. “We need more space … We’re definitely moving up into the forefront of where the climbing industry is right now. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s a tough project to put together, and that’s why the partnership with Evolution worked so well. It’s a very good team we’re putting together.”

Howard said all of Maine Rock Gym’s staff and membership will be brought into the new facility.

The new indoor rock climbing gym would be built on what is now a paved parking lot associated with the former Lifestyle Fitness gym on Warren Avenue. The Lifestyle Fitness facility is being rented by a martial arts group, according to the Evolution application, and no longer needs the more than 83,000 square feet of parking area there.

According to its website, Evolution’s Concord facility features 16,000 square feet of climbing surface and was designed to be “the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly climbing gym in New England.”

Harris said the Portland facility will “be very close” to a copy of the Concord gym, with some likely variations in the shapes of the climbing walls inside. She said that while she does not have a firm figure on the construction cost for the new Portland climbing gym, the Concord facility cost approximately $2.7 million to build.

Harris, a licensed architect described on the Evolution website as a retired competitive climber, said she hopes to break ground on the new gym this fall, and that the Maine Rock Gym is slated to be closed in favor of the new venue by next August.

She said climbing uses many of the physical skills she learned as a gymnast and diver in her youth.

“Really, getting fit is a great side effect to climbing,” Harris said. “It’s just a really fun activity, and the social component to it is something you don’t always see in other fitness activities. There’s a great community around climbing.”

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