Bunge could become climbing gym

A Carlson student hopes to convert the abandoned grain elevator.

The Bunge Grain Tower, located on the western side of Van Cleve Park. A University of Minnesota student is working to turn the tower into a rock climbing gym.

Image by Bridget Bennett

The Bunge Grain Tower, located on the western side of Van Cleve Park. A University of Minnesota student is working to turn the tower into a rock climbing gym.

by Nicholas Studenski

The abandoned Bunge grain elevator in Southeast Como may soon become a rock climbing gym.

Curt Marx, a Carlson School of Management MBA student, is working with the building’s owner to lease the property and be­gin its transformation.

Neighborhood residents have been trying to knock down the 206-foot tower for years because of its ap­pearance and safety haz­ards. The building has been abandoned for a decade, and a University of Min­nesota student fell to her death there in 2006.

Marx was inspired by the Upper Limits Indoor Rock Gym and Pro Shop in Bloomington, Ill., a climb­ing gym built inside former grain silos.

Shawn Watson, an Up­per Limits employee, said turning the tower into a gym was a challenge.

“It’s not really set up for that,” he said. “Everything’s concrete, so you can’t just stick [lighting and duct work] wherever.”

The Upper Limits gym has climbing routes of vary­ing heights and difficulty levels throughout the inside of the elevators, as well as a 110-foot outdoor climbing wall that spans the height of a silo.

Marx began working with the Minneapolis-based non­profit Project for Pride in Liv­ing, which provides mixed-income housing and owns the grain elevator, this spring. Marx said they haven’t final­ized purchasing or leasing of the property yet, but PPL is interested in working with him.

“Their main interest is something good happening with this,” Marx said.

Since purchasing the property around the tower, PPL has developed most of the land into mixed-income apartments and townhomes, according to Matt Soucek, se­nior project manager for the group.

Soucek said PPL was pre­viously in negotiations with a developer planning to con­vert the elevator into luxury housing units, but the deal fell through during the reces­sion.

Neighborhood organiza­tions are also supportive of the project.

Cordelia Pierson, presi­dent of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said she would like to see the property developed.

“It is a real landmark,” she said, “It would be great to see it reused.”

Ricardo McCurley, neigh­borhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improve­ment Association, said “ev­eryone at SECIA is in love with the idea.”

But the project is still in the planning stages. Marx has spoken with potential in­vestors for the project as well as a wall design company in Europe, but said nothing is set in stone yet.

“I put a lot of time into it this summer, investigating the idea [and] what it would take to make it happen,” he said.

For now, Marx has put the project on hold as he attends classes. He plans to graduate this December and then re­sume work on the grain eleva­tor’s conversion.

Bryan Karban, climb­ing and trips coordinator at the University Recreation and Wellness Center, said he thinks a gym would be popular because of University students’ growing interest in rock climbing.

He said more than 1,400 people visited the climbing wall at the newly renovated Recreation Center during the first week of the semes­ter, which was “free climbing week.”

“Climbing is an ever-growing activity,” Karban said, “and I think the open­ing of the University wall just proves that you cannot have too much climbing space in the city.”

Robert Hampson, envi­ronmental science, policy and management junior, started climbing last year at the Rec­reation Center and said he would “definitely” be inter­ested in climbing at the tower.

“That sounds pretty awe­some,” he said.