Climbing to New Heights

Q&A with Dan Bartz, First Ascent Peoria

In January 2019, First Ascent Peoria opened its doors in the heart of Peoria’s Warehouse District, part of the adaptive reuse of a former steel warehouse. Founded in 2013 to grow the Midwest’s climbing community, First Ascent’s Peoria site is the company’s fifth location in Illinois and first outside of the Chicagoland area. The expansive, 20,000-square-foot facility features world-class climbing terrain, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, a dedicated yoga studio, expert climbing instruction for kids and adults, and a variety of fun, community-oriented events. It’s a welcome addition to the region’s already-vibrant slate of fitness and wellness options. iBi spoke with Dan Bartz, co-founder and director of marketing, about the new location.

Why was Peoria chosen as the next location for First Ascent?
First Ascent is founded and run by climbers, and we partnered with a local group of Peoria climbers to open First Ascent Peoria because we share the same vision: to build a world-class climbing gym that serves and grows the local climbing community. We think Peoria is an excellent place for a climbing gym, because there is already a strong local community of climbers, and the vibrant mix of young professionals, college students and families gives us a great opportunity to grow that community by introducing new people to the sport.

In an already-crowded fitness market, how did you determine this concept could work here?
Climbing is a unique kind of workout. It’s fun, it’s social and it engages your mind as much as your body. Moreover, First Ascent’s mix of climbing, yoga, fitness and fun gives us something to offer everyone. Some pursue climbing as a sport, and others pursue it as a recreational activity. First Ascent caters to both: we reset routes and boulder problems daily so there are always new challenges awaiting our members and regular visitors, and we give all first-time visitors a thorough orientation so they have a warm introduction to climbing—even if they are just enjoying it for the day. 

We also offer a full schedule of yoga classes, as well as a full fitness offering, so visitors can get a full-body workout and members don’t have to have a separate gym membership. And we host regular community events like film screenings, food nights (Taco Tuesday, anyone?), climbing competitions and more, so the gym serves as a catalyst for a strong community—not just a place to work out and get out.

First Ascent Peoria team
Staff at First Ascent Peoria, now open for business. Photos courtesy of First Ascent Peoria

Why did you choose the Warehouse District? What about the location and the building itself appealed to you?
The simple answer: high ceilings. But really, we think First Ascent Peoria is one of the coolest and most unique climbing gyms in the country because of all the features that give the building its historic landmark status: the original walk-in safe, the old-growth timber and brick construction, the massive sliding fire doors, and the list goes on. The Warehouse District is also seeing a lot of renewed energy and development in recent years, and we’re excited to be a part of the redevelopment effort as new businesses and residences inhabit these beautiful historic spaces.

Are you seeing a lot of walk-in traffic?
Yes! We offer access to the facility through day passes as well as memberships, allowing climbers to enjoy the sport at their level of interest. To date, we’ve hosted a lot of new climbers who are excited to check out Peoria’s first climbing gym, as well as repeat visits from our members, some of whom have visited almost daily since we opened.

Are the weekends busy with families and kids?
We do host many families on the weekends, along with college students and adults. One thing we love about our gyms: they cater to a diverse range of age groups and ability levels. We welcome parents to climb with their kids when they visit—it’s one of those activities you can enjoy as a whole family. iBi

First Ascent Peoria is located at 927 SW Washington St. in the former Hagerty Brothers Co. building, originally built in the 1920s. For more information, visit firstascentclimbing.com/Peoria or follow
@firstascentclimbing on Instagram for regular updates and inspiration.

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