By Opportunity Zone Magazine

The historic Ohio City Masonic Center on Cleveland’s west side is getting a $2.6 million facelift, and a new lease of life as one of the Midwest’s largest rock-climbing gyms, thanks to the Opportunity Zone program.

The iconic 1939 building — a striking, windowless slab of stone flanked by classical pillars — was in a state of disrepair when it was bought last year by local tech and real estate entrepreneurs Kevin Wojton and Karen Thang. Wojton works on the project with Nate Astrup, who are both keen climbers. Now the pair, who are both keen climbers, plan to make it the flagship project for the Cleveland OZ Fund, a new $20 million to $50 million venture focusing on historic and nonconventional OZ projects in the Cleveland area.

“What we’ve found is that in the Opportunity Zone market, there are a lot of big players creating multi-family units,” Wojton says. “We’re more excited about the projects that you can pick up for pennies on the dollar, where your cost is so low that the only way is up.”

The climbing gym, dubbed Cleveland Rocks, will take up 17,000 square feet and feature a new glass atrium allowing climbers to clamber up 60-foot walls and take in vistas of the surrounding neighborhood. The space, which will retain marble stairs and other historic architectural features, will also be used for a tech-focused incubator and maker-space offering coding classes to local people.

The pair are starting small and soliciting just $250,000 in initial OZ investments for the Masonic Center redevelopment. They hope their project will inspire other OZ investors to look beyond mutlifamily developments and take a chance on funding more creative and community-focused projects.

“Our goal is to prove this concept on a small scale, as the first movers in Cleveland using Opportunity Zone dollars, and then move on to bigger things,” Astrup explains. “We’re trying to be catalysts for change.”