Faith-led investor wants to rehabilitate downtown, starting with former strip club
A casino-turned-strip club in downtown Kennewick will reopen as a Mexican grocery store following a renovation by a faith-based investment group keen to play a role in the neighborhood.
Jared Walther, former nuclear industry executive and cybersecurity expert, is the driving force behind Walther CRE LLC and associated investment entities.
The Christian nonprofit has purchased two buildings downtown, including the former City Stars Gentlemen’s Club at 101 S. Gum St. and the Bateman Building, which houses Sportspage Bar and Grill, at 307 W. Kennewick Ave .
Walther would like to buy even more into his offering to support Kennewick’s vision of a vibrant city center.
Walther’s company bought the building that housed the now closed City Stars Gentlemen’s Club in August for $ 1.2 million. In June, he paid $ 2.5 million for the Bateman Building to support his upstairs tenant, a sober 23-unit shelter for the homeless, disabled or recovering.
Walther brings a varied experience to the city center. In addition to his work in nuclear and cybersecurity, he develops businesses to support Christian ministries and owns a business that runs about one house per month – buying homes in need of repair, then selling them for a profit.
He’s new to commercial investing, but he’s a big fan of historic Kennewick town center and its pedestrian orientation.
He shared his vision over a glass of water at a table outside Sportspage in late August. A touch of fall was in the air as he inspected Foodies Brick and Mortar across the street and its neighbors.
He had just visited the Spectrum Center in Irvine, California, a popular destination for dining, shopping, entertainment, and events.
He believes the vibe can and should be replicated in the Tri-Cities of Kennewick. He cited recent arrivals such as an ax throwing company, Red Mountain Commercial Kitchen and Layered Cake Artistry to make his point. The new arrivals had to make significant improvements to their old buildings.
“I’d like to buy everything,” he said, looking at Kennewick Avenue.
Turning the controversial former Gum Street casino and strip club into a grocery store will be the first effort.
Walther’s team began emptying the building in August, intending to leave only the kitchen and the cooler. It will enter into a capital lease with the operator of a Mexican grocery store, which is not available in eastern Kennewick and Finley.
He shares the vision of a thriving Kennewick with the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership, a non-profit organization working to revitalize the downtown area. Gum Street, which runs along the east side of the area, needs anchor points and businesses to serve the area.
“We encourage it,” said Stephanie Button, Executive Director.
The Bateman Building is one of the most important buildings in the city center and was Walther’s first commercial investment. He credits a broker who brings homes to his flipping businesses for reporting the opportunity.
“I felt called to beautify downtown Kennewick,” he said.
The Bateman is best known for the Sports page, which has taken up much of the street-level space for over 30 years. But it was the upstairs rehabilitation housing that convinced Walther to buy it.
His team wanted to support the Community Action Coalition, which operates the sheltered housing on the upper floors. CAC has been in the building for 19 years. Walther and company wanted to make sure this continues.
“I came for the ACC,” he said.
Walther said the Bateman building is in excellent condition and is fully fire retardant, a nod to the Kennewick Hotel, which was on the property until it burned down in 1948.
Button, of the HDKP, called the Bateman an important part of downtown and said she was thrilled to see an enthusiastic investor take over.
The building has two vacant storefronts. Walther intends to rent both to tenants who will draw visitors to the city center.
In the future, the building could get a facelift, but it is in good condition, he said.
While Sportspage won’t change much in the short term, the former Gum Street strip club has a fiery history. Built in 1964, it has been a store, restaurant, Lucky Bridge Casino and more recently a bankrupt strip club.
City Stars owners Hector and Jennifer Salgado shut it down in 2020 citing pandemic pressures. Benton County Auditor’s records show it was transferred to an entity associated with the casino in lieu of foreclosure in 2020.
The 7,600-square-foot building was listed for sale for $ 1.4 million, according to LoopNet.com, a commercial advertising service.
Walther was intrigued. The building spans three quarters of an acre, has over 70 parking spaces and is zoned commercial, allowing for a wide variety of uses. But the six-figure price was beyond his reach.
Still, he joked to his board, wouldn’t it be funny if we bought a strip club and did something there?
In the end, the joke gave way to some serious thought. Creative funding helped close the deal.
The conventional financing was done, but with the seller’s financing, six months without payment and a lump sum payment over five years, they bought it. At the end of the five years, they expect the tenant of the grocery store to be able to purchase it directly.
Walther, originally from Indiana, began working in the nuclear industry in Arizona through his stepfather.
At the same time, he took ministry trips to Africa, where he realized he needed profitable businesses to support his work of faith. He and his wife created GROWTH Group as an international non-profit organization to help pastors in developing countries. Together, they have started over 300 businesses.
The couple moved to Kennewick in 2014 to establish the Ascend Apostolic Center. He created Walther Investment Housing Association LLC to remodel homes in 2019.