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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
June 6, 2023

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One man’s vision for the former Value Motel in Hazel Dell

18 years sober, James Kasper strives to turn infamous Value Motel into recovery housing for those looking to turn lives around

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James Kasper, center, talks with advisers about his future vision for the Value Motel in Hazel Dell, which is being transformed into a recovery house.
James Kasper, center, talks with advisers about his future vision for the Value Motel in Hazel Dell, which is being transformed into a recovery house. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

James Kasper says the word beautiful a lot. While walking through the Value Motel in Hazel Dell with construction workers and architects, he talked about the property’s decrepit buildings for what they can be, not what they are.

Removing some rotted Sheetrock from a windowsill, revealing wood underneath, he said: “I can make that beautiful.”

When he ventured upstairs and looked out on the concrete jungle and rusty motel sign looming over Interstate 5, he said he’ll make that beautiful, too.

“When I want something done, I make it happen,” Kasper said.

One of the signs will advertise recovery housing at the soon-to-be converted motel and another signpost will hold a big neon cross. Maybe, Kasper mused, seeing that glowing cross will turn someone’s life around.

The 53-year-old has learned firsthand the beauty of transformation. If he hadn’t changed and sobered up 18 years ago, he imagines he’d be dead by now. The Value Motel, which he’s turning into a 60-room recovery house, was one of his frequent haunts. It was the place to get, use or sleep off drugs and alcohol.

Dozens of people are interested in moving there and using sober living to get their lives back on track.

For Kasper, jail time and three years in an Oxford House sober community were key turning points. He lauds the people who put him away, people he now considers friends.

As Kasper racked up DUIs, then-Clark County District Court Judge Kenneth Eiesland wasn’t sure what to do. Kasper was clearly struggling in drug court, then a new alternative to jail time, but he was doing well financially. Anytime Eiesland put a bail on Kasper, he’d post it and get out of jail. This happened repeatedly. Finally, Eiesland got him back in court.

Kasper struck him as an aggressive guy — “quite a salesman,” Eiesland said — who seemed to be trying to run the informal drug court proceedings.

“The guy was just overwhelming,” said Eiesland, who’s now retired.

In January 2003, after Kasper pleaded guilty to his seventh, eighth and ninth DUIs, Eiesland sentenced him to four years and 45 days in the Clark County Jail.

“I gave him an unbelievable, horrible sentence,” Eiesland said. “Jail is a cell, and you can’t do a long time in that kind of environment, nobody can.”

It seemed Kasper’s unusual punishment helped him snap out of it, said attorney Bill Thayer, who represented Kasper during his sentence review.

Although he doesn’t take criminal defense cases anymore, Thayer said he’s seen many past clients break free from addiction and a few who tragically didn’t.

“I’ve seen it go both ways, and it makes you feel really good when they manage to climb out,” he said.

At the recommendation of a particularly sharp probation officer, Eiesland let Kasper out of jail early but kept him on a tight rein. Eiesland knew the hardest part was not actually coming to court for check-ins; it was all the hours spent alone, trying to maintain sobriety.

Kasper had a Breathalyzer, an ankle bracelet, weekly court meetings, was put into an Oxford House and was expected to show Eiesland that he had attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting every single day — a habit Kasper still maintains. (Though, these days, the meetings take place at Iron Horse Recovery Hall in Orchards, which doubles as the offices for Kasper’s sandblasting company. The building was a Mexican restaurant and a Denny’s before that, another one of Kasper’s haunts when he was deep in addiction.)

“That guy took off, and he was unbelievable,” Eiesland said. There didn’t seem to be a restriction Kasper couldn’t meet. “James said, ‘Add one more thing to the list: I’m going back to drug court, and I’m going to graduate.’ ”

District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman, who was running drug court, said: “I told him if he didn’t straighten up, he would be in jail forever.”

Therapeutic drug court participants must show they’re going through treatment, pursuing job opportunities, paying fines and otherwise leading productive lives and staying out of trouble. If they screw up, back to jail they go.

Nowadays, Zimmerman occasionally asks Kasper to present certificates to drug court graduates. The pair have gotten together for Christmas parties and lunches. Along with Eiesland, they celebrated Kasper getting his driver’s license back and buying a motorcycle.

The two also visited Kasper in the hospital in March 2010 after he had been struck by a car while on his motorcycle. Kasper lost his left foot and now wears a prosthetic, but it didn’t derail his recovery.

“He doesn’t use that as a reason to feel sorry for himself or go back to drinking,” Zimmerman said.

During Eiesland’s retirement party, Kasper got up and proceeded to tell the crowd his journey, saying if Eiesland hadn’t forced him to sit in the Clark County Jail, he wouldn’t have made it. He said something to the effect of “You don’t (expletive) with Eiesland.”

“My mother about fell off her chair,” Eiesland said.

Zimmerman, who recently toured the Value Motel, is encouraging Kasper to set up the recovery house as a nonprofit so county officials can more easily work with the place. There are occasions where people need to quickly get into housing or risk re-offending while living out on the streets.

Retired Clark County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Mike Anderson, who first met Kasper while he was staying at the jail, is impressed by Kasper’s commitment to fixing up the Value Motel, a place where law enforcement used to joke they couldn’t drive through the parking lot without making an arrest.

“Here’s an old alcoholic, rough as nails, who made a commitment to God and said, ‘I’m turning it all over to you,’ and look what he’s accomplished,” Anderson said.

Anderson, who also recently toured the place, noted that county higher-ups have discussed doing something about the Value Motel for years with no success. Kasper’s unusual connections and friendships with county officials may help push the project along.

One side of the motel, at 708 N.E. 78th St., will house women and children, and the other side will be for men. The exterior was painted black and gray and decked out with green lights. Bringing the motel originally built in 1963 up to today’s codes is no easy task. A lot of the ruined building materials will have to be removed and replaced.

Though it depends on the permitting process, Kasper is hopeful people can move into the place in December, the month marking his 18th year of sobriety.

“I don’t want to be on this project forever. I’ve got to get this done,” Kasper said.

You Can Help

Email kasperrecoveryhousing@gmail.com for more information about donating time or money to turn the Value Motel into a recovery house.

He knows people are counting on him. Thayer, the attorney, said Kasper knows what it’s like to be in the throes of addiction and burn bridges, leaving you without a place to live.

“I know it’s a mission of his to be there for people, to help them climb out,” Thayer said. “He has been through it himself and knows what it takes.”