Macon Rocks Climbing Gym opened its doors to the public on March 22, 2021, in the heart of downtown Macon.
The 3600 square foot rock climbing gym features a 39-foot climbing wall, 10-to-14-foot boulder walls, a fitness center, and space to host birthday parties and teambuilding events. The facility houses all the modern amenities that any avid climber would relish within the walls of an iconic historic structure in the setting of a vibrant downtown.
Bryan Nichols and Kevin Reaves, owners of Macon Rocks and some of downtown Macon’s most aggressive real estate developers, acquired two buildings on D.T. Walton Sr. Way six years ago when no other developer would consider saving the dilapidated structures. Nichols remembers feeling challenged by former NewTown Macon CEO and president, Mike Ford, to buy the buildings and give them a new life.
Nichols crunched the numbers and knew immediately the project would be an incredible risk. Being a historic preservationist and passionate leader of downtown’s revitalization, Nichols committed to the uncertain venture because he believed in saving a piece of Macon’s history.
Nichols soon learned the building at 527 D.T. Walton Sr. Way was a gathering place for African Americans in downtown Macon’s historic black business district, known as Cotton Avenue. The building formerly housed a black-owned shoe shop, newspaper offices and, most notably, the Melba Lodge.
When renovating the building, Nichols found photos and video reels of African Americans visiting the Melba Lodge, which are now available for the public to view at the Washington Memorial Library.
“When you go to rock climbing gyms, they’re normally in warehouses that are not architecturally interesting or close to other attractions climbers enjoy,” said Nichols. “At Macon Rocks, you get to see a cool, historically significant building while you climb and you’re just a short walk from everything downtown has to offer.”
Nichols and Reaves plan to expand the rock-climbing gym into the former Capricorn Records office building next door. They will preserve the building’s facade so tourists can experience what Capricorn looked like when it was in operation. Once the expansion is complete, visitors will be able to kick off their tour of Macon’s music history at an unlikely location: a state-of-the-art rock-climbing gym housed in a structure that once served as an entertainment venue for the African American community as well as the headquarters of Southern rock. The historic significance of the buildings as a contributing structure to Macon’s black business district and the former home of Capricorn Records makes Macon Rocks Climbing Gym one of the most unique rock-climbing facilities in the nation.
Nichols reports that 60% of the climbers visiting the gym are not Macon-Bibb County residents. The nearest rock-climbing gyms are located in Atlanta and Columbus, positioning Macon Rocks as a destination for the Middle and South Georgia regions and even Florida. Being
in downtown Macon serves as an extra incentive for non-Maconites to visit. Purchasing a day pass allows visitors to take a break from climbing and visit downtown’s 55 restaurants, four breweries, and 41 retailers, all within a 5-minute walking distance from Macon Rocks. Climbers can turn their day trip into an overnight stay and visit attractions like Studio A at Mercer Music at Capricorn or watch live music at one of downtown’s 35 entertainment venues.
“In designing Macon Rocks, Bryan and Kevin spared no expense in creating a destination attraction,” said Gary Wheat, President and CEO of Visit Macon. “We have already experienced visitors coming from Atlanta and beyond just to test their skill at rock climbing. We are excited for the future tourism impact that Macon Rocks will have on the Macon-Bibb economy.”
This article was originally featured in the July/August 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.