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Rock climbing gym to be built at former Tibet House site in Corvallis
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Rock climbing gym to be built at former Tibet House site in Corvallis

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Deanna Lloyd said Corvallis has needed a rock climbing gym for the general public for years if not decades, as the sport has surged in popularity.

“A lot of folks are getting their start indoors, then heading out,” Lloyd said.

At the end of February, a group of Corvallis community members including Lloyd purchased the former Tibet House or T House building downtown at 401 S.W. Jefferson Ave. They aim to turn it into the Valley Rock Gym, an indoor climbing space.

Other owners include Morgan Foster, Johanna Garcia, Wendy Little, and Little’s sister Sally Starker.

Their plans are ambitious, and the Valley Rock Gym could become one of the premier indoor rock climbing areas in the state, with 17,000-square-feet of roped climbing and bouldering. The gym will include a mixture of routes for different climbing abilities, and also have dedicated youth areas and a certified speed climbing wall.

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, the owners planned to open bouldering areas in October and do a building expansion to include rope walls in late 2021. The construction timeline remains in flux due to the illness and its impacts, however. But the owners plan to forge ahead.

The main customer base for the Valley Rock Gym will be the Albany and Corvallis areas, but Foster expects to have regulars from the Oregon Coast to Sweet Home.

“Especially once we have rope climbing walls, we’ll draw a lot of people from Salem and maybe Eugene,” said Foster, a Philomath High School graduate.

The Valley Rock Gym owners also plan to include fitness and training spaces, a yoga studio, classrooms, rentable spaces and a new wellness-focused eatery, Ants on a Log Café.

Oregon State University has indoor climbing spaces, Lloyd said, but those often are crowded, and there are access issues for community members who aren’t students. Hours can seem limited, and it can be difficult for a parent to bring children to climb at the university, for example.

Plus, Foster said OSU doesn’t have much space for bouldering – free climbing on shorter walls or standalone structures that generally are 15 feet tall or under.

Foster said the Valley Rock Gym will be open early and until 10 p.m., so residents can get a workout in before they go to work and after they leave their jobs.

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“Some people will come here for a half-day, some for a half-hour,” added Garcia.

Three of the owners of the Valley Rock Gym are skilled climbers themselves. Little and Starker enjoy the sport, as well, though they aren’t as experienced. “We’re interested in this for the community,” Starker said. She and her sister will be in charge of the Ants on a Log Café.

Lloyd expects rock climbing’s popularity to continue to surge, in part because the sport has been added to the Japan summer Olympics. The Olympics were set to take place this year, but shifted to the summer of 2021 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Part of the appeal of rock climbing is that it’s much more than a workout.

“What I get out of it is a sense of community and connection,” Lloyd said. Other climbers are supportive, but that sense of connection she mentioned is also with her own body and mind. “I can focus and everything else melts away,” Lloyd said.

“It’s a mental puzzle as well as a physical endeavor,” Garcia added.

Lloyd, Foster and Garcia also hope to resume their travels across the United States and the globe to scale rock walls once the coronavirus pandemic fades.

The T House, originally billed as the Tibet House, was an Asian restaurant and nightclub that opened in May 2014 but shut down in July of that year after overextending itself.

The building, which has a domed ceiling and a basement level, was originally built as a Safeway in 1951, Valley Rock Gym owners said.

The former T House mural will be gone after the renovations, though the owners of the Valley Rock Gym are working to document the artwork, which stirred major controversy.

The mural depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In 2012, the Chinese government asked the city of Corvallis to force the T House owner to remove the artwork, but city leaders politely declined the request, saying the mural violated no laws and its message was protected by the First Amendment.

For more information on the Valley Rock Gym, go to www.ValleyRockGym.com or the fitness facility’s Facebook page.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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