Faith-led investor wants to rehab downtown, starting with old strip club

A casino-turned-strip club in downtown Kennewick will reopen as a Mexican grocery following a remodel by a faith-led investment group that is eager to play a role in the neighborhood.

Jared Walther, a former nuclear industry executive and cybersecurity expert, is the driving force behind Walther CRE LLC and related investment entities.

The Christian nonprofit purchased two buildings in downtown, including the former City Stars Gentlemen’s Club at 101 S. Gum St. and the Bateman building, home to Sportspage Bar and Grill, at 307 W. Kennewick Ave.

Walther would like to buy even more in his bid to support Kennewick’s vision of a vibrant downtown.

Walther’s company bought the building that housed the now-closed City Stars Gentlemen’s Club in August for $1.2 million. In June, it paid $2.5 million for the Bateman building to support its upstairs tenant, a 23-unit sober shelter for people who are homeless, disabled or in recovery.

Walther brings a varied background to downtown. In addition to his nuclear and cybersecurity work, he develops businesses to support Christian ministries and owns a business that flips about one home a month – buying homes in need of repair and then selling them for a profit.

He’s new to commercial investing, but he’s a big fan of Kennewick’s historic downtown and its pedestrian-friendly focus.

He shared his vision over a glass of water at a table outside the Sportspage in late August. A touch of fall was in the air as he surveyed Foodies Brick and Mortar across the street and its neighbors.

He had just visited Spectrum Center in Irvine, California, a popular destination for dining, shopping, entertainment and events.

He believes the vibe can and should be duplicated in the Tri-Cities in Kennewick. He cited recent arrivals such as an axe-throwing business, Red Mountain Commercial Kitchen and Layered Cake Artistry to make his point. The newcomers had to make significant upgrades to their old buildings.

“I’d like to buy all of it,” he said as he looked down Kennewick Avenue.

Transforming the controversial former casino and strip club on Gum Street into a grocery store will be the debut effort.

Walther’s team began gutting the building in August, with plans to leave just the kitchen and cooler. It will enter a lease-to-own arrangement with the operator of a Mexican grocery, which isn’t available in east Kennewick and Finley.

He shares a vision of a thriving Kennewick with the Historic Downtown Kennewick Partnership, a nonprofit working to revitalize the downtown area. Gum Street, which runs along the eastern side of the area, needs anchors and businesses to serve the area.

“We’re cheering him on,” said Stephanie Button, executive director.

The Bateman building is one of downtown’s most prominent buildings and was Walther’s first commercial investment. He credits a broker who brings houses to his flipping businesses for flagging the opportunity.

“I felt called to beautify downtown Kennewick,” he said.

The Bateman is best known for the Sportspage, which has occupied much of the street-level space for more than 30 years. But it was the rehabilitation housing upstairs that convinced Walther to buy it.

His team wanted to support 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 ensure it continues.

“I came for CAC,” he said.

Walther said the Bateman building is in excellent shape and is fully fireproof, a nod to the Kennewick Hotel, which stood on the property until it burned in 1948.

Button, of HDKP, called the Bateman an important part of downtown, and said she’s thrilled to see an eager investor take over.

The building has two vacant storefronts. Walther intends to lease both to tenants who will attract visitors to downtown.

In the future, the building could get a facelift, but it is in decent shape, he said.

While the Sportspage won’t change much in the near term, the ex-strip club on Gum Street has a feisty history. Built in 1964, it has been a store, a restaurant, Lucky Bridge Casino and most recently a failed strip club.

City Stars owners Hector and Jennifer Salgado closed it in 2020, citing pandemic pressures. Benton County Auditor records indicate it was deeded to an entity associated with the casino in lieu of foreclosure in 2020.

The 7,600-square-foot building was put up for sale for $1.4 million, according to LoopNet.com, a commercial listing service.

Walther was intrigued. The building sits on three quarters of an acre, has more than 70 parking spots and is zoned commercial, which allows 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 serious consideration. Creative financing brought the deal to a close.

Conventional financing was out, but with seller financing, six months of no payments and a five-year balloon payment, they bought it. By the time the five years tick off, they expect the grocery tenant to be able to buy it outright.

Walther, originally from Indiana, began working in the nuclear power industry in Arizona through his father-in-law.

At the same time, he conducted ministry trips to Africa, where he realized he needed profitable businesses to support his faith work. He and his wife established GROWTH Group as an international nonprofit to help pastors in developing countries. Collectively, they have launched more than 300 businesses.

The couple moved to Kennewick in 2014 to establish Ascend Apostolic Center. He created Walther Investment Housing Association LLC to flip homes in 2019.

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