Plans for indoor rock climbing gym recommended to City Council

Wilson Chapman, Web Editor

First Ascent, an indoor rock climbing gym, is one step closer to coming to Evanston after plans for the space were approved by the Economic Development Committee on Wednesday.

The committee will send a recommendation to City Council for First Ascent to lease a city-owned property at 2222 Oakton St. in southwest Evanston.

First Ascent was one of two potential tenants presented to the committee. The other was Peckish Pig, a restaurant and brewery on Howard Street, whose owners wanted to use the space to establish a food hall and event venue.

Although First Ascent ultimately gained committee members’ approval, many residents offered their support of Peckish Pig during public comment. Some pointed to the restaurant’s use as a public meeting place and its status as a local, Evanston-owned business.

Paul Zalmezak, Evanston’s economic development manager, said during the meeting First Ascent had the more realistic proposal. First Ascent is a chain of gyms that currently has four locations in the Chicago area.

“The staff believes that First Ascent is better capitalized and more realistic in terms of the renovation costs,” Zalmezak said.

During his presentation, Jon Shepard, First Ascent’s co-founder, emphasized how the business could fulfill an unoccupied niche in Evanston, noting that rock climbing is rising in popularity.

Shepard also said climbing has a wide appeal and said the wide variety of programs they host would further attract many visitors.

Shepard said First Ascent anticipates 300 customers per day, a large portion of which would be from outside Evanston. He said his company believes these residents will frequent local shops around the gym after working out.

“Those are people that, work out, work out an appetite… and then go out and treat themselves to local businesses and local restaurants,” Shepard said.

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