By Bill Parry
One of the nation’s largest rock-climbing centers is back in action following an extended closure by the city.
The Hills at LIC reopened last week after the city Department of Buildings shut it down in October, just 20 days after its grand opening, because it did not have a valid certificate of occupancy in order.
“I feel like the weight of the world is off of my shoulders and we’ve been packing them in since last Wednesday,” owner Mike Wolfert said.
He claimed he failed to file the proper form that included a sign-off from an independent engineer attesting to the structural integrity of the mammoth gymnasium’s 30,000 square feet of climbing space. Some walls tower up to 60 feet.
The DOB lifted the vacate order March 27 after the facility underwent an extensive audit. Wolfert says his climbing walls were always up to code.
Wolfert has other complications as well. The original opening, scheduled for last May, was delayed because he allegedly bribed a city investigator who was posing as a building inspector. The city Department of Investigation is continuing to look into the matter and Wolfert could not comment on the case.
The center, at 11-11 44th Drive, drew more than 2,000 rock climbing enthusiasts for its grand opening in October.
“Only a very small percentage of the members h3ave canceled. Rock climbers make a very tight community and they’ve been very supportive of me and The Cliffs,” Wolfert said.
He did not charge members during the shutdown and Wolfert figures the delays have cost him at least $500,000 in rent and salary. He kept his full-time workers on the payroll during the May through March delays.
Wolfert enjoys the support of his neighbor Josh Bowen. The owner of John Brown Smokehouse, at 10-43 44th Drive, said, “We’ve seen an increase in customers the past week, so we’re happy as hell to have them back in the neighborhood. We supported them through the good and bad, so they always send folks my way. Plus, people who are into physical exertion tend to eat like cavemen, so it’s perfect for us. We’ll make 44th Drive a destination now.”
Wolfert will plan a new grand opening as soon as he has the The Cliffs at LIC fully up to speed. In addition to the walls that can handle 500 climbers at a time, the center features a gym equipped with strength-training equipment and cardiovascular machines.
He is also set to launch a free after-school program for at-risk youth called “Climb Up.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.