Monday, June 14, 2021
June 14, 2021

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Body and spirit merge at new community center

Nonprofit center shares space with church at former Bally site, although each operates independently of the other

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
3 Photos
Kessid Church Youth Pastor Chris Potter, clockwise from top left, Kessid Center General Manager Keith Walther and Kessid Church Lead Pastor Danny Clinton pull rubber mats from a storage area near a stage Saturday in preparation for the opening of the Kessid Center, a nonprofit community center, in the same space that housed the now defunct Bally Total Fitness center in Fishers Landing.
Kessid Church Youth Pastor Chris Potter, clockwise from top left, Kessid Center General Manager Keith Walther and Kessid Church Lead Pastor Danny Clinton pull rubber mats from a storage area near a stage Saturday in preparation for the opening of the Kessid Center, a nonprofit community center, in the same space that housed the now defunct Bally Total Fitness center in Fishers Landing. Photo Gallery

o What: The Kessid Center is a new, private, nonprofit community center.

o Where: 16096 S.E. 15th Street, Vancouver — the former Bally Total Fitness building.

o When: The grand opening is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., June 12, featuring Dan Dickau basketball clinic and more.

o Information, memberships: www.kessidcenter.com.

When old buddies Brett Wilkerson, manager of Vancouver’s Heathman Lodge, and Danny Clinton, former pastor at Living Hope Church, came together to start a new church in east Vancouver, they based it in leased space at the Firstenburg Community Center — because, Wilkerson said, church and community belong together.

“You could go to Sunday service and then take your kids swimming,” he said.

The formula was “an unbelievable hit,” he said. Their new Kessid Church grew quickly, and the men started dreaming of a new east-side recreation center serving the whole person — mind, body and spirit. Their church would be its seed, but the community center would be bigger than that.

“What if you had a church in a community center, but not dominating the community center?” Wilkerson said.

o What: The Kessid Center is a new, private, nonprofit community center.

o Where: 16096 S.E. 15th Street, Vancouver -- the former Bally Total Fitness building.

o When: The grand opening is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., June 12, featuring Dan Dickau basketball clinic and more.

o Information, memberships: www.kessidcenter.com.

He was chatting up the idea at his sister’s Super Bowl party, he said, when local developer Mark Hinton told him about a California friend with a similar spirit — and some prime real estate to boot.

Don and Sigrid Weisenweber, former Portlanders now living in Santa Rosa Valley, Calif., bought the Bally Total Fitness facility at 16096 S.E. 15th Street for $11 million in 2007. Bally went bankrupt in 2008, and the Weisenwebers’ plans to reopen as a different health club ultimately fell apart. Before the building was Bally, it was a Health Experience Athletic Club; that, too, went under.

Clinton and Wilkerson flew to California to talk to Weisenweber, who said he found their vision “naturally compatible” with his own.

On June 12, the former Bally Total Fitness building will reopen as the Kessid Center, Vancouver’s newest private recreation and community center. An opening party is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The 60,000-square-foot facility has three swimming pools (including one outdoors), state-of-the-art fitness equipment, several studio and meeting rooms including “hangout” space for tweens, an auditorium and a full-sized gymnasium and hoops court that was refloored for approximately $10,000 by former Trail Blazer and Clark County native Dan Dickau. Dickau’s Basketball Academy will lease space and teach classes there.

Membership will cost $45 per month for one adult, $30 for a youth and $75 for a family of four — plus initial fees between $65 and $100. Daily drop-ins are $5 for youths and $9 for adults. Members of the closed Bally club — or the Oxford Athletic Club that just folded after 50 years — can get half off their membership fees, according to Kessid Center general manager Keith Walther.

Tough landscape

Walther, 43, was the facility director at Vancouver’s Firstenburg Community Center when Kessid arrived; he joined the congregation, and just five weeks ago he was hired away from the city to run the new Kessid Center.

Walther, who’s also worked at Kids Club in Salmon Creek and Club Green Meadows, said he had terribly mixed feelings about leaving Firstenburg — and he’s not looking to compete with his former employer or local health clubs.

Kessid aims to be a family recreation center — not a health club per se — serving a population a little farther east, Walther said. Plus, recreational and team swimmers who’ve mourned the recent closure of the Hough Pool and resented overcrowding at the city’s Marshall Community Center pool should welcome Kessid’s three additional pools, he said.

That’s not denying it’s a tough landscape for all such facilities, Wilkerson said. Firstenburg’s arrival was blamed for the subsequent closure of the nearby Landover Athletic Club. Just last week, the closure of the Oxford Athletic Club was announced after 50 years.

Pete Mayer, the director of Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation, said he’s not worried about competition. Many activities at Firstenburg are free, he said, and when fees are charged, they’re lower across the board than Kessid — plus, there are no initial startup fees.

“There are unique niches for a wide variety of folks to serve,” Mayer said. “There’s the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, 24-Hour Fitness, and now Kessid. I think there are plenty of opportunities and I think there are probably future partnership opportunities (with Kessid) in the future.”

Because of the many business partners and lessees who’ve come aboard — from Weidenweber and Dickau to an Adventist Health physical therapy office with a separate entrance — the Kessid Center only needs something like 1,500 paying members to stay afloat, Wilkerson said. That’s far below the many thousands that most modern fitness clubs shoot for.

Still, he added, more partnerships and lessees are welcome. “This is going to take a village,” he said. On Saturday, the place was open for a finishing-touches work party attended by hundreds of Kessid Church members, friends and others — like Columbia River Swim Team, which already practices there.

“It’s risky for sure,” Weidenweber said. “We are praying the community will support it. In business, if you offer more value than you charge, people will come.”

Separate nonprofit

Weidenweber, who was visiting the facility last week when The Columbian stopped by, is a colorful figure. He’s a former math teacher and computer entrepreneur — and also a poet and born-again Christian who last year published a book called “Confessions of an Agnostic Believer.”

His author biography says he “continues to struggle with his faith” and shares that struggle honestly in the book. Weidenweber was also the founder, in the 1980s, of a Portland group called American Aid for Afghans, which raised money for food, clothing and medicine for the Afghan people and for guerillas battling Soviet soldiers there.

Nobody would disclose the financial deal that Weidenweber has worked out with Kessid. He bought the property for $11 million in 2007; according to county records, its taxable value on Jan. 1, 2009, was $5.4 million.

“We are supporting them as much as we can,” Weidenweber said. “We believe this is the best use of this building for the community.”

Although the community center grew from the seed planted by Wilkerson, Clinton and their church, all took pains to say they are separate entities. The Kessid Center will be open to all; the Kessid Church is now a Sunday lessee and pays the fair market rate like anyone else, Walther said.

“We set up a completely separate nonprofit,” said Danny Clinton — who’s both pastor of the church and president of the nonprofit. He said the nonprofit is made up largely of non-church members from across the community. Wilkerson is chairman of the nonprofit board and said its members also include Dickau, Hinton and Dave Militech, who worked at Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation for 17 years.

Doors are of course open to all regardless of faith. “It’s not going to be a faith-based community center,” Clinton said. Kessid Church members don’t get membership discounts, he said.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525 or scott.hewitt@columbian.com.

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