We honestly thought Contact would be open and operational in the fall of 2019. We worked really hard to make that happen, and though we weren't able to accomplish it, I think what happened actually worked out for the better. Here is a short history of things we experienced along the way.
1. Finding Financing - After breaking our piggy banks, double mortgaging our houses, and selling off a child or two, we managed to scrape together a decent amount of money for a down payment. We set a budget and began working with banks and the Small Business Administration. Initially things looked very promising as the SBA fairly quickly approved our project. We struggled to convince any of the local banks to get on board however, and spent several months spinning our wheels explaining to stuffed shirts why climbing is so cool, and why we believed we'd be very successful in the St. George area. We did extensive research and created detailed business plans, pro-forma financial statements, and we even did a feasibility study with economic "ring data" from the state. Eventually we were able to get First Bank Financial Centre based in Wisconsin (yeah, spelled like that) to take the project, because they had financed other climbing gyms and had been successful.
Even after the financing institutions were in place there were numerous unbelievable hurdles. The appraisal did not quite justify the full expense of the building, causing us to get really creative on the building budget and what we would include initially vs. put off. The banks required us to pay a 3rd party to do a feasibility study which took 6 weeks (the results said the same thing that ours did). There were all manner of fees and contingencies and things we had to have cash up front for. It was $180k for city impact fees!
It took us almost a full year to work out these details!
Construction couldn't begin until we had them all in place. The most bizzarre of all was that there was a restrictive covenant tied to the lot that explicitly said we could not build a 'spa or fitness facility larger than 3000 sq ft.' We knew this and had received written permission from the other lot owners to build the gym, but this was not good enough for the banks. After involving 5 lawyers and spending another 5 weeks, we were able to get the legal documentation in place to move forward.
These kinds of things would happen one right after another. One hurdle would clear and another would arise. It felt to us like running into a strong headwind, and every inch of progress was dearly earned.
2. Architecture - We contracted with Greg Mathis of MRW Architects in summer of 2018. Tragically, Greg passed away in the fall of 2018. We continued to work closely with MRW, but the process to complete the architecture and get it through city approvals was very drawn out. The city was backed up due to the explosive amount of building occuring in the St. George area. What usually takes six weeks, took us over six months.
3. Construction - Our general contractor is Watts - we feel really fortunate to have found them. In spite of the extensive delays, they were consistently supportive and encouraging. For nearly eight months they worked with us closely on many details, and they received no payment at all (we hadn't yet fully closed on the loan and therefore couldn't begin to pay them). When the loan finally closed, they began the construction immediately. The construction process has gone really smooth so far and as of this writing, the cement has been poured for the floor.
Our current rough schedule has us completing some time in November. I'd really love to be open for Christmas! The Covid-19 pandemic has not effected us much but it may start to as suppliers and vendors begin have to deliver things. Only time will tell but we're keeping our fingers crossed.
We've stayed really busy making decisions about the little details for the gym. Chris and I recently poured over the various climbing hold options to individually select the 12,000 holds that will make up our initial set. Though this may seem a tad mundane or even tedious, we're so excited for what's to come that it makes these tasks quite enjoyable.
We'll keep you posted over the next few months as we continue to make progress. If you haven't been by the lot, you should drive by and take a look. There's a great spot to sit and watch from the Cal-Ranch parking lot! And be sure to follow us @contactclimbing on Facebook and Instagram for details on membership drives, hiring information and sneak peeks on the progress!