The Ascension of Fifth and State
New facility boasts expansive climbing gym and new apartment housing
Downtown Erie has undergone a slew of transformations since European colonists first set up shop in the late 1700s. Once a dirt and cobbled path leading to the all-important port of Erie, State Street has grown and changed with the times but has always remained the main artery of our city.
The northwestern corner of Fifth and State has also gone through its fair share of changes. At one point, its mid-1800s architecture was consistent with nearby residential buildings, townhouses, and small shops. But in the 1930s, with the ever-increasing ownership of automobiles, the commercial and residential building on this corner was eliminated for the installation of a service station. Some from older generations may recall filling up or having a tire repaired at Penn Drake Service Station (or later Caughey Amoco), which occupied that corner of 5th and State for decades. Then, in 1983, a McDonald's franchise moved downtown (some time after the first McDonald's opened in Erie 23 years earlier at 4319 Peach St., and made itself a sensation) and that restaurant became a part of the fabric of our younger generations' downtown memories.
Cut to Oct. 31, 2019. The then-nascent Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC) had much grander ideas for the property, monopolized by a fast food giant and its parking lot for 36 years. The group purchased .438 acres of land comprising the McDonald's and adjacent block for $3.85 million dollars and just a few days later it was a thing of the past.
The brand new building occupying the space on the northwestern corner of Fifth and State has been in the works since 2019. This spot now contains 30 apartment rental units as well as a state-of-the-art rock climbing gym, Ascend Erie. (Photo credit: Ryan Hoover, EDDC)
Ryan Hoover, experience director for the EDDC, reminisces, "After just opening 42 apartments, the Food Hall, Public Market, Bricks, and the Shops at 5th & State, It was hard to fathom that more was on the horizon. I had a bit of a wakeup call last January when (then CEO) John Persinger reminded me that the apartments were opening in the spring. And here we are today with this stunning new building, now home to a climbing gym and 30 beautiful apartments, 80 percent of which are already occupied."
The "stunning new building" to which Hoover is referring is one of the biggest construction projects Downtown Erie has ever experienced and is now home to the aforementioned apartments, and, of course, the much-anticipated Ascend Climbing Gym, a 28,000-square-foot space housing multiple rock climbing walls and boulders of varying heights and difficulties. Before the building was even constructed, business partners with Ascend Climbing committed to building this space in Erie and partnering with the EDDC to see the vision come to life. The Pittsburgh-based company's Erie gym features "50 foot lead climbing, top-roping, and auto-belay walls, ample bouldering terrain, a tranquil yoga room, an array of fitness equipment and climbing training tools, slacklines, a retail store featuring today's most trusted brands, your favorite concessions, modern restrooms with showers, changing areas, and gender neutral options, comfortable lounge space to relax, work, and socialize, and of course, tons of glass and natural light."
If you're walking down State Street, you'll notice climbers trying out their skills through that remarkable glass, on Ascend's 24-foot wall. This smaller wall (deeper within the building is their second, much larger, 52-foot climbing wall) is referred to as their "development zone" and is intended to be used by those learning to climb, or for team retreats or birthday parties. There is an area for everyone, whether you're just starting out or are a seasoned climber. The idea is that beginners will learn alongside experts, which helps the newbies pick up tips, learn new techniques, and build confidence.
If you're new to rock climbing or would just like to check out the gym before committing, Ascend has many options available. One can purchase a single day pass, a 10-pass punch card, or memberships at varying levels of time commitment (three months, six months, or annual). And Ascend has all the equipment and expertise necessary, so first-timers needn't be intimidated by this seemingly daunting activity. Ascend describes their ethos, "We aim to make climbing as approachable and accessible as possible. We truly believe climbing is for everybody. This Erie facility was designed to suit all types of climbers: beginners, outdoor crushers, competitors, those who have adaptive needs, groups, youth, and families."
Ascend offers levels of difficulty for everyone wishing to climb – from seasoned pros to beginners, children, or those with adaptive needs. With memberships ranging from a single day pass to a full annual commitment, one can give climbing a try before officially joining. (Photo credit: Ryan Hoover, EDDC)
Ascend's mission statement reflects their inclusivity and their goal to help as many people as possible realize the health benefits and all-around fun that climbing can be, while also providing an example of ethical business practices: "Our business will not just be run to make a profit, but to also be a benefit to its employees, members, the immediate neighborhood, and the region. We seek to create a sustainable business model, focused on longevity and capable of growing morally and responsibly. We see ourselves as part of a larger climbing ecosystem within the communities of Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania, and America. We take our roles as climbing ambassadors very seriously, and we support causes that affect our sport such as land access, environmental stewardship, local legislation, and human rights."
These big-picture ideas come back around locally, as well. As founder of Ascend Climbing Paul Guarino comments on the company's involvement in Erie's downtown revitalization, "We are eternally grateful to the Erie Downtown Development Corporation and the Erie community for welcoming Ascend. This facility represents a meaningful next step – we are truly and genuinely optimistic about Erie, Ascend, and our collective future together."
The EDDC feels that same sense of optimism. Hoover goes on to explain, "I believe the new Ascend Climbing gym is an excellent example of what the EDDC is set up to do – bring about transformational change in the heart of Downtown Erie. Drive up State Street now, and you'll see this new building proudly standing at that corner, welcoming guests of all ages to interact, play, climb, and make new memories. Not only is this a visual transformation, but it's also a generational one. This is a space where adults will bring their kids, and multiple generations of guests will have fun together."
A membership to Ascend Climbing covers your entry to the Erie facility and is also valid at the company's other facilities located in Youngstown, Ohio, and Pittsburgh. Ascend Erie hours are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can find more information at ascendclimbing.com/locations/erie
For more information on apartment rental within the Ascend building or about any of the EDDC properties, visit flagshipcitydistrict.com