Site of century-old building will be replaced with rock-climbing gym

A 118-year-old building on Pandora Avenue that once housed a traditional Chinese medicine establishment will be torn down and replaced by a rock-climbing gym.

Partners Ken Cronin and Nikolai Galadza bought the two-storey pink structure, which appears in rough shape, for $1.14 million on July 26 from Dr. Wally Mui and his wife. Built in 1895, the building does not have heritage designation, and the new owners may apply for a demolition permit within the next six weeks, although it may be combined with a building permit.

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Friends since they were teenagers, Cronin and Galadza currently operate Crag X Indoor Climbing Centre on John Street in the Rock Bay neighbourhood.

“We’ve been where we are for 18 years and we’ve paying rent for 18 years, so we figured that we’d make a purpose-built building that we own,” Cronin said, adding their current landlord is “a super guy” who gave them a chance when they were only 23.

They’re excited at bringing rock climbing to the city centre in a purpose-built structure and hope to show it off in larger premises with glass frontage of up to 40 by 50 feet. A wall that’s 40 feet high will be on offer along with a lot more bouldering — unroped climbing no higher than 14 feet, said Cronin, who operates the financial side from his home in Ottawa.

“It’s all rooted in convenience,” added Galadza, who is counting on attracting more clients for daytime or after-work, especially with the addition of yoga and some fitness classes. The Ministry of Health and the B.C. Ferries buildings as well as city hall are only a minute or two away on foot.

Their plan will require Victoria city council’s approval for its exterior design, but no variances to zoning regulations are required, the partners say.

Last September, the City of Victoria bid $501,000 for the property in the annual sale for unpaid taxes. The Muis had a year to pay $55,200 in taxes plus interest on the bid price, which has now been done.

Mui operated the International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine on the site, but registration was revoked by a provincial regulator in 2009, after which he ran a clinic.

Jarzebiak, board chairwoman of the Boulders’ Climbing Gym Society, is totally on side with the downtown expansion of Crag X. “I’m so happy to hear it. I think it’s fantastic that Crag X is going to upgrade their facility,” said Jarzebiak, whose non-profit boasts a 70-foot wall next to Stelly’s secondary school that hosted the World Youth Climbing Championships that ended Monday.

“The more the community builds its climbing infrastructure, the better it is for the health of the community,” said Jarzebiak, who is advising the University of Victoria on its new wall.

Rock climbing is stereotyped as a sport of “adrenalin junkies,” but children as young as three, people with disabilities and those receiving stroke and autism therapy all climb at Boulders, she said. It is still looking for $300,000 to top its fundraising campaign that netted $2.7 million for recent renovations, including $1.7 million from provincial and federal governments.

The Crag X partners searched for a downtown site for about two years. They expect construction to begin before the end of this year, and the new gym to open in 2014. “It’s definitely going to be a nice building, a good building for Victoria,” said Cronin.

But no coffee bar.

“I don’t want to go up against Habit, the coffee shop around the corner at the bottom of the Atrium Building.”

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