A Lyndhurst native and St. Ignatius alum, Kevin Wojton left the Cleveland area for a technology career in New York and Hong Kong. But his true love is rock climbing, having even becoming a sponsored athlete in the sport—and his mission is to spread that love by bringing the ultimate rock climbing experience to Cleveland.
Enter the perfect place for Wojton to realize his vision: the historic Ohio City Masonic Center at 2831 Franklin Blvd. “For the last five or six years, I’ve been looking to start a rock climbing wall in Cleveland,” he explains. “I’ve seen what rock climbing walls have done for other cities. I looked at 30 different buildings.”
When Wojton looked at the Masonic Center in January, he knew he had found his future site. “This building’s great,” he says of the mysterious and foreboding building. “We couldn’t have a better location.”
A $2.4 million renovation and construction plan is now underway on the 1932 building to create Cleveland Rocks—one of the largest rock climbing gyms in Ohio, alongside a yoga studio space, and the technology-driven Flux Makerspace. The project should create 18 jobs.
Wojton is paying for the project partly through a traditional real estate bank loan, and partly thanks to a $80,000 USEPA-funded Brownfield Redevelopment Revolving Fund loan, approved by Cuyahoga County for the necessary environmental cleanup of the Masonic Center.
“We are pleased to be part of this important economic development initiative that will breathe fresh life into the Ohio City Masonic Center," said County Executive Armond Budish in a statement. “This project will continue to add to the exciting progress of the Ohio City neighborhood by creating jobs, [as well as] health/wellness and technology resources for our residents."
About eight Masonic Lodges operated out of the building before an ownership dispute reduced that number to just one lodge (that eventually moved out, too). “It was the Masonic lodge here,” says Wojton. “One lodge took ownership and kicked the others out. They ran out of money three years ago and locked the doors and walked away.”
After sitting empty, the building has some physical repairs that must be addressed, including asbestos remediation and a new roof. Vandals stole pipes, and the rain soaked the interior. But Wojton sensed the potential. “We saw it as an iconic space,” he says. “With the story and the narrative, we wanted to invest the time and energy."
Wojton says old engraved masonic chairs, desks, gavels, and other “masonic icons” remain, not to mention paintings (even one of George Washington) and Art-Deco design elements. Then there’s marble everywhere—on the floors, the walls, the staircase, even the bathrooms.
“It was definitely a different time,” Wojton says. “We want to keep as much of the historic nature of the building as possible.”
The high ceilings make a great space for the Cleveland Rocks rock climbing gym, Wojton says, which will take up about 17,000 square feet of the 30,000-square-foot space. The rock walls will be some of the highest in the state, and the space will feature lead climbing, top rope, and auto-belay walls—as well as a bouldering area—to cater to every age and skill level. Wojton reports the lead climbing wall will be as high as 60 feet, while the bouldering wall will rise about 16 feet.
Flex space will be available for yoga instructors to teach classes of any size, with the largest space allowing for yoga sessions of up to 100 people. “We’re promoting a path for people to build their own small businesses,” Wojton says.
The nonprofit, all-ages Flux Makerspace will provide all the equipment for entrepreneurs and learners who want to start a business or learn the latest technologies. The space will be stocked with equipment like laser cutters and 3-D printers and will host computer programming classes for entrepreneurs and youth to make Cleveland a technology hub.
“The Flux Makerspace will provide community access, mentorship, and serve as a business incubator,” Wojton explains. “We’re just looking at ways for early-stage entrepreneurs with under $50,000 in revenue [to get started]. In the next five years, [we want] hundreds of people to learn software development. We want to get technology in the hands of people who want it.”
Wojton has already offered one software development class and plans to hold another one in August. The bootcamp costs about $300, but he is hoping to get 501C3 nonprofit status and offer scholarships to those who can’t afford the cost.
The Cleveland Rocks facility is on track to open later this year or in early 2019.
The combination of the three endeavors under one roof will bring the Cleveland community together, says Wojton. “Our main goal is to make Cleveland as amazing a city as we can,” he says. “I personally feel we can make Cleveland a tech city. Our goal is to light the fuse and, in one, two, three, or four years, see the rebirth.”