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Proposed development threatens Kitchener climbing gym's new home

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A local rock climbing gym is working to open the doors at its new location on Victoria Street North in Kitchener, but may not be there long due to an application for a condo development at the site.

When Grand River Rocks found out about development plans at its Borden Avenue location last year, staff quickly found a new home at the old LA Fitness building on Victoria Street North. Grand River Rocks decided to break their lease on Borden Avenue and signed a five-year lease with a five-year extension on Victoria Street.

“It’s a perfect location for us. It’s still in the city centre, it's got the ceiling height we need,” Christoff Leroux, part owner of Grand River Rocks, said.

The new building has larger change rooms and extra space, and they hope to open by June.

“The climbing walls are not here yet. They're still being manufactured. But we're starting construction on our party areas,” Leroux said.

But owners got a big surprise when they found out there is an application to rezone the Victoria Street property to allow for a condo development at their new home.

“It will allow for the redevelopment of subject lands with a high intensity mixed-use development with two towers 35 and 40 storeys in height, with 1,076 residential units and commercial uses located along Victoria Street,” Craig Dumart, senior city planner with the City of Kitchener said.

A rendering shows the proposed development. (Source: City of Kitchener)

The city said the developer is unknown. The owner is the Falco Group, which is being represented by MHBC Planning. No timeline has been given for the development. If the rezoning is approved, site plans and building permits would still need approval.

“We’re currently in a housing crisis, and there is a shortage of housing. This proposed development will help contribute towards [addressing] the housing crisis,” Dumart said.

Leroux said the rock climbing gym isn’t against housing.

“The city definitely needs more housing. That kind of goes without saying. But the city also needs things for people to do and things for the community,” he said.

Leroux said they weren’t aware of an application to develop the property when they signed the lease, saying they wouldn’t have done so, if they knew about it.

“We found out about that a few weeks ago and it's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but we're making it work. We're still moving here," Leroux said.

A map shows the location of the proposed development at 236-264 Victoria Street North. (Source: City of Kitchener)

An online information meeting was held Tuesday night to hear from the developer, the city and for the public to ask questions.

"There are no arrangements with the affordable housing providers," said Andrea Sinclair of MHBC Planning. "That's not to say that that can't change in the future, but given we don't have a definitive timeline for when this would be constructed, we're still not sure if it's going to be rental or ownership."

Staff will gather comments from the meeting to include in their reccomendation to council.

"Those lease arrangements [with Grand River Rocks] need to be met," said Sinclair. "In this case, my understanding is that the lease is structured in a way that if my client was to break the lease early, that there would be appropriate financial compensation.

"I do understand the owners have been in communication with Grand River Rocks, but I would encourage that if further communication is needed, that the appropriate avenue is to have those discussions directly with the owners of the property."

In March, the application will go in front of city council and delegations will be able to present their thoughts.

“Nothing is really a guarantee, but we feel pretty confident that [we have] at least five years based on the lease we have,” Leroux said.

Climbers said they are looking forward to the new location on Victoria Street and hope it stays.

“It’s a real family spot for us, so we really love it. We really hope that we can stay in the new location,” Steve Brown, a member at Grand River Rocks, said.

The proposed development would have two towers and 1,076 residential units. (Source: City of Kitchener)

Grand River Rocks said it has been growing. It currently has about 5,000 members and around 70 staff across its two gyms in Kitchener and Waterloo, and its kids facility, Go Bananas, which is also moving to the Victoria Street Location.

“[We’re] trying to convince the city that a climbing gym is important for this community,” Leroux said.

Moving a climbing gym is challenging, because the walls are custom designed to the building. Leroux said if they have to move again, new walls would need to be built for the new place. He said they will start hunting for another location if they have to.

“We'll make it work. We'll figure it out," Leroux said. “We have a lot of support in the city and a lot of people that are looking to help us out. So hopefully we can find a new home and move into there.”

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