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Climb and punishment: Park picks operator with controversial past to run bouldering wall

Climb and punishment: Park picks operator with controversial past to run bouldering wall
Julienne Schaer

It is a bould move.

Brooklyn Bridge Park has tapped a rock-climbing gym operator who was once arrested for paying off a Department of Buildings official, before opening a business without filing the proper paperwork, to run its new climbing facility beneath the Manhattan Bridge.

The privately-run park announced Friday that the Cliffs Climbing and Fitness — whose owner pleaded guilty last year to greasing the palms of a building inspector while trying to open his facility in Queens — will oversee operations at its new climbing wall opening in spring next year.

Park operators say they are aware of the charges, but their faith is rock solid that the outfit is on the up and up.

“Based on the operator’s evident expertise in running its existing facilities and providing high-quality programming, we are completely confident that the Cliffs will do a fantastic job in providing our community with a great climbing facility,” said park spokeswoman Belinda Cape.

Authorities arrested the Cliffs owner Mike Wolfert in May 2013 for bribing an undercover Department of Investigations officer posing as a building inspector in order to speed up the opening of his gym just across the creek from Greenpoint. He faced jail time for the rap, but pleaded to the lesser crime of “giving unlawful gratuities,” and a judge sentenced him to a conditional discharge, according to a Queens District Attorney spokesman Kevin Ryan.

Wolfert opened his Queens gym in November 2013, but the city closed it a few weeks later after discovering he didn’t have a valid certificate of occupancy. He finally reopened it in March last year after the Department of Buildings confirmed the massive complex was structurally sound, according to a Queens Times Ledger report at the time.

The cliff hanger says he runs a safe and successful operation, and doesn’t think his history will be a problem for the park’s image.

“I think the Brooklyn Bridge Park believes in us and knows what kind of top-rate facility we’ve run,” said Wolfert, who also runs a climbing gym in Westchester. “Our gym in Queens has been open for two years now and anyone who goes can see how well it’s run.”

The Cliffs was not in charge of constructing or designing the climbing walls in Brooklyn’s Front Yard — the park built them then put out a call for gyms to run the operation, and Wolfert was one of several scarp-scaling pros who put their well-callused hands up.

Climbers will pay $9 for a full-day pass — including shoe hire — and the outfit will also offer some free access to after-school programs and school field trips, Wolfert said.

The price is a steep discount on standard gyms — the Cliffs charges $28 a day for its center in Queens and $18 for its upstate operation. The $9 fee will just cover the operating costs, but Wolfert said he views the venture as a promotional opportunity rather than a money-making venture.

“Brooklyn Bridge Park is such a word-class facility,” he said. “Having this wall as an amenity for the Cliffs really improve the brand.”

The park is home to several revenue-raising private businesses, which park honchos say are necessary to fund the operation and maintenance of the green space, but doesn’t expect to earn anything from the climbing operation, Cape said.

Bouldering is similar to rock-climbing, but is done on shorter, more challenging walls with no harnesses. Where rock-climbing is about ascending great heights quickly, bouldering is a slow and methodical puzzle, Wolfert said — climbers sometimes spend weeks nutting out a route to the top and may only end up making eight movements to get there.

“It’s shorter bursts of power combined with a math problem,” he said.

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at rbrow[email protected]local.com or by calling (718) 260–9309. Follow her at twitter.com/rbbrown.

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