The developer who built the world-class Montage condominium project from the bare steel bones of the original Reno Sahara, says his building standards will remain top notch for the renovation of the former Fitzgeralds casino, which will include the world’s tallest rock-climbing wall. Fernando Leal said the 197-foot wall in his CommRow project is unique in combining professional-level rock-climbing sports, the best “street food in the country” and lodging under one roof. “It’s a multi, multi-million dollar project,” he said. And for downtown Reno, it will be unique in having “no gaming, no smoking and no whining,” Leal said, half joking. He is serious about no gaming or smoking.
With city approval of a permit for a larger balcony for the building facing Virginia Street, Leal said work on the climbing wall would start in late February and end with a summer grand opening. About 150-200 people would be employed. The first two floors of the former hotel-casino built in 1976 have been gutted. Entre-Prises, which built the climbing walls for the Royal Caribbean Line cruise ships, is designing the wall to meet national and international standards, said Antoine Richard, company chief executive officer, who was in Reno this week. His French company was the first to build artificial climbing walls in 1985, has since built 4,000 of them and has a manufacturing and design operations in Bend, Ore. But this is their first wall over a tall building. And his associate Adam Koberna said it will be the world’s tallest. “Pretty much,” he confirmed.
A 7,000-square-foot bouldering park is planned for the second floor of the former hotel-casino that closed in 2008. Using imitation rocks, holds can be bolted into different areas of the rocks so the color-coded routes can be changed, Richard said. Eight to 10 professional rock-climbing competitions are anticipated each year with each drawing 750 to 1,500 participants. The X Games and the “Amazing Race” television also will be pursued, Leal said. Rocksport Reno, which operates the only local climbing wall gym, will manage the climbing wall and bouldering park.
The National Federation for Sports Climbing is working to make it an Olympics event. The current world record is climbing 46 feet in 8.6 seconds. “People fly up the wall,” Richard said. The new wall could be part of a new kind of tourism that could take shape downtown, where casinos have been hit hard by the long recession and Indian casinos’ competition in California.
The wall fits Reno’s former America’s Adventure Place theme, Gary Carano, Silver Legacy general manager, said. “I think it’s super exciting for Reno,” he said. “It just hits the America’s Adventure Place right in the bulls eye.”
Councilman Dave Aiazzi said the wall would be used to expand existing downtown events or starting new ones, citing several dozen Santas huffing and puffing up the wall with bags of goodies for the annual Santa Pub Crawl or Superman and Batman could scale the walls for the start of the annual Super Hero crawl. Leal said he supports all that. “This is about fun,” he said. Aiazzi said the wall also builds on the city’s whitewater park that first began to bring young people downtown before the recession put a halt to a number of projects. “This will help bring that energy back downtown. More people are moving into the Montage and we’ve had a lot of new restaurants opening in the last six months,” Aiazzi said.“This can only be good for everybody down here,” said Tom Christ, Harrah’s Reno entertainment and public relations director. Even before he heard about the climbing wall, he said Harrah’s was planning to bring back more entertainment on its plaza this summer. The giant stage was empty last summer between the Fourth of July and Hot August Nights. Having music on the plaza while people watch the climbers across the street at CommRow, he said, is even better.
Leal said he and partner Donald Wilson tried for two years to gain interest in developing Fitzgeralds as a boutique hotel while others looked at the property for gaming. “But we never got a deal we could put together,” he said. While building the Montage, later taken over by banks and then sold, Leal said a rock-climbing wall was one idea being explored for part of that building.
And since his move to Reno from Chicago a few years ago, he has gone from being a “city boy” to an outdoorsman and biking to keep in shape. Pursuing the climbing wall and bouldering park was a natural.
“I’m having fun,” he said. He and his partner are investing their own money in the project. They control DRW Fitzgerald Real Property LLC, the property owner. He said union shops will be hired to do about 90 percent of the renovation work.