Rock-climbing gym and hybrid coworking space to open in Chicago

Brooklyn Boulders, a chain of rock-climbing gyms and 'active collaborative workspaces,' is coming to Chicago's thriving West Loop. It will be “a hybrid community center” and “a space where you can effectively blur the lines between work, life, and play,” said Jesse Levin, co-founder and 'Senior Social Chameleon.'

Written by Emerson Dameron
Published on Oct. 08, 2014
Rock-climbing gym and hybrid coworking space to open in Chicago

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Brooklyn Boulders, a chain of rock-climbing gyms and 'active collaborative workspaces,' is coming to Chicago's thriving West Loop. It will be “a hybrid community center” and “a space where you can effectively blur the lines between work, life, and play,” said Jesse Levin, co-founder and 'Senior Social Chameleon.'

The team began scouting local locations in January of 2012 and after considering Evanston, the Goose Island area, and a few other spots, BKB settled on a space at 100 S. Morgan. The remodeling work is underway, and the results are already spectacular. With 25,000 square feet and American-made materials, BKB has constructed a climbing wall and mapped out areas for workouts, standing desks, meetings, a cafe, and a DJ booth. Local muralists and street artists will decorate the walls.

[ibimage==41250==Large==none==self==ibimage_align-center]Levin, along with President Lance Pinn, envision a unique 'third place' where members of Chicago's business and tech communities can experience the brain-boosting benefits of vigorous exercise and apply it to creative and collaborative work. With the disconnection of tech culture, “there's this craving for conversation, for tangibility,” said Levin. “This novel platform, a climbing gym, can bring together the Ubers, the Redbulls, the street artists, the climbers, the yogis, the tech, the IDEOs...”

[ibimage==41219==Large==none==self==ibimage_align-center]This will be the third arm of the Brooklyn Boulders empire, with spaces currently in New York and Boston. Pinn and Levin stress the new space will absorb the unique culture of its location. “A tremendous amount of time and care are spent on listening and learning about what makes Chicago tick,” Levin said.

The Boston launch took place on “a blank slate,” with possibilities that the Brooklyn headquarters didn't provide, said Pinn. This one will, too.

“In Chicago, we have identified entrepreneurship, heritage craftsmanship, foodies, music, physicality and veterans as our primary focuses,” said Levin. “As much as our core competency is climbing, we put an equal amount of care into these facets as they will be core elements of the Chicago project.”

[ibimage==41220==Medium==none==self==ibimage_align-right]BKB will not be just a gym, nor will it be an incubator or a traditional coworking space. “We're looking forward to working with the 1871s of the world,” said Pinn. “We don't compete with them.”

“We're so different,” said Levin. “We don't compete with anybody.”

Typical large-scale gyms of their size must set up in low-rent areas on the fringes of cities, such as the areas around airports. In contrast, BKB is in the heart of an urban community. “We want to evangelize for climbing and what this does for you to an entirely new demographic of people, that being right in the middle of an urban area that's in the throes of gentrification,” Levin said.

[ibimage==41221==Medium==none==self==ibimage_align-left]So far, the Chicago operation is within budget and on schedule. “We've had a pretty smooth time, all things considered, with the scope and the scale of the project,” said Pinn. 

The Morgan Street location aims to open Dec. 13.

In New York, BKB worked with Team Rubicon, a veteran-run disaster-relief organization, during Hurricane Sandy, and they hope to expand their work with the veteran community in Chicago. They currently have one vet on staff and forged partnerships with The Bunker and the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum.



While still under construction, BKB Chicago invites locals for 'Hard Hat Dinners,' tours, and pre-launch events. They recently hosted "Bender," an event that featured a house DJ and a two-hour guided yoga session.

With its new location, Brooklyn Boulders hopes its ongoing community outreach will lead to something new, something that business leaders and various social communities can build together. “The makeup of BKB Chicago's community members will be the project's greatest differentiator,” Levin said.
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It enters the neighborhood with lofty ambitions. “People have told us that we've changed their lives,” Pinn said. “That's a lot of responsibility.”

 

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