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Peterson Companies swaps swimming pool for climbing gym at RIO property

Al Urbanski
RIO SportRock

Peterson Companies, the developer of big mixed-use centers such as National Harbor in D.C., had a big problem. 

Sport & Health vacated its 80,000-sq.-ft., multi-level space at its RIO development in Gaithersburg, Md., that had a slab opening over its swimming pool between its third and fourth floors. The ideal replacement, of course, would have been another big gym, but Peterson’s leasing department was having trouble landing one.

“The leasing team looked under every rock and kissed a lot of frogs… but no luck,” remarked Peterson’s president of retail Paul Weinschenk. 

The team spoke to as many brokers as they could to find a tenant that could fill the space without incurring the great expense to close the slab opening. Then one day a Peterson leasing agent was talking to a rep from a construction management company and told him about the problem.

“Hey, we like to go to the SportRock indoor climbing facility in Alexandria,” said the contractor. “Why not talk to them?”

He did, and ended up conquering Peterson’s mountainous problem. 

“We looked at photos of RIO. It was a massive space. Sixty feet tall with beautiful natural light,”
said SportRock’s director of marketing Jeffrey Shor. “We had a real desire to do something with this space, and Peterson was ahead of the game. We could tell they were proud of the space.”

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The pool stayed in the design. No water, though.

“The beauty of the space is that it’s got a lot of clear height, and we were able to remove a portion of the fourth floor in order to capture additional clear height,” Weinschenk said. “It’s a versatile space for SportRock’s purposes.”

The pool itself was kept intact. It was a shallow lap pool with a slight slope that melded with the uneven surface surfaces of a climbing gym. A neon “No Diving” sign was posted next to one of the climbing surfaces.

“We were not going to retro-fit the features. We leaned into it.” said Shor. “We are in the business of creating a community to express themselves physically and having these unique features adds to the experience.”

Shor said the new location is doing a great job of hitting SportRock’s numbers and gaining attention. More than 3,000 people showed up at its opening party. Sport climbing has been added as a competitive category at this year’s Paris Summer Olympics, and RIO’s SportRock has been selected to host the team’s trials in March.

SportRock’s unplanned landing at the mixed-use center has turned out to be serendipitous in another very important way.

“We get a lot of foot traffic from people who’ve never climbed before,” observed Shor. “Climbing gyms end up in a lot of unusual places because of the spaces they need. Often, they’re in industrial parks. At RIO, we get people who woke up one morning and didn’t know they would be climbing that day.”

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