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Toledo's historic St. Anthony Church eyed for climbing gym
By By Luke Ramseth / The Blade,
Could the long-vacant St. Anthony Church in Toledo's Junction neighborhood be transformed into a climbing gym?
Lucas County Land Bank officials are hiring a design firm to find out.
This week, the land bank's board of directors unanimously approved up to $299,500 for Toledo-based firm the Collaborative to study the church, see if a climbing gym could work, and draw up plans.
"It's fundamentally a complicated property because it has four stories of exalt-the-heavens space that you really can't use in most cases,” David Mann, the land bank's president and chief executive, said at the Wednesday board meeting. “But you have to heat and light and cool and do all the things that even the Diocese never did for 100 years because they never had air conditioning."
After pondering different uses and meeting with community members over the years, Mr. Mann said only two realistic uses emerged for the old church: a climbing gym, or a remodeled community gathering space.
The church, at the corner of Nebraska and Junction avenues, hasn't been used for services since 2005. It was slated for demolition in 2018, but community groups and elected officials urged the Diocese of Toledo not to tear it down.
The land bank then acquired the church and has since carried out maintenance and preservation work while trying to figure out its future use. The redevelopment effort got a boost earlier this year when the organization got a $4 million earmark with the help of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) for the project.
Mr. Mann said the land bank has talked with Adventus, a company currently building a climbing gym near Wildwood Preserve Metropark, about eventually customizing the old church as a second large climbing facility in the city. A much smaller gym with a different owner, Climb Toledo, has operated since 2021 in a former barbershop in North Toledo.
Mr. Mann said Adventus "would like a second climbing gym facility. They believe St. Anthony offers such a unique environment that it could become a national destination for climbing." A message seeking comment from an Adventus representative was left Thursday.
"We've had multiple meetings with the neighborhood" about the climbing gym proposal, said Lindsay Webb, the Lucas County treasurer who also leads the land bank's board. "People were skeptical, but there's been lots of discussion on how to integrate the neighborhood into the space."
Another board member, Mike Beazley, said: "Something that brings people into the core of the community, and also can present opportunities for people in the neighborhood, is worth exploring, when I'm bereft of ideas of how to retask spaces like this."
First, the architecture and design firm will need to see if the building could realistically support climbing walls and other equipment, and how to overcome other problems, like the lack of a bathroom, functional windows, and space for modern mechanical equipment.
The Collaborative will also examine whether solar panels could be installed on top of the church, a feature for which Ms. Kaptur has advocated.
Mr. Mann said further meetings with the surrounding neighborhood are also needed before the idea moves ahead. And he said officials want to see if Adventus is successful in its first location, which remains under construction, before it turns over the church for another climbing gym.
"There's a lot still left here, but we believe it worth the time and energy to explore, because there's nothing else that has come up" as a good use, Mr. Mann said.
He said the land bank hopes to have an answer on whether or not to proceed with the climbing gym idea by the fall. If all went to plan, the 1894-era church could host indoor rock climbers as early as 2025.