Years ago, when James Kasper had time off from work, he’d hit up the Value Motel, “the devil’s playground.”
It was the place to buy, sell, use or sleep off drugs. Now, with nearly 18 years of sobriety under his belt and savings in the bank, Kasper plans to turn the derelict motel into a 60-room recovery house.
Work has already started on the old motel off of Highway 99 in Hazel Dell. He plans to put a giant cross on the signpost facing Interstate 5 that for years has advertised rooms at $39 nightly.
One side of the motel at 708 N.E. 78th St. will house women and children, and the other side will be for men. Kasper, 53, plans to open it in December and already has a list of people interested in moving in.
“It’ll be a beautiful place,” he said. “This place has never seen what I’m bringing to it. It’s a huge undertaking, but I’m the guy to do it.”
After serving a multiyear sentence in the Clark County Jail for nine DUIs, Kasper spent three years living in an Oxford House in Vancouver. Though he initially fought the idea of living in a house with a bunch of other sober guys, he soon became house president. It was one of the best things he’s ever done, he said.
“If it’s ran right it’s an amazing program,” he said.
He needed the high level of accountability the house provided. It was there he started his own sandblasting company, Kasper Sandblasting, that’s provided the financial means to fund such an ambitious venture as taking over the Value Motel. He hired Robertson & Olson to help get through the permitting process.
Where the pool was will be a playground and outdoor area. There will be a community room, laundry room, dining area and shared kitchen. The reception area — the one where he checked in on countless benders — will become a recovery hall.
It’s part of Kasper’s vision to turn the places he used to haunt into places of hope and recovery.
On the other side of town in Orchards, Kasper took over what used to be a Mexican restaurant and a Denny’s before that.
“Everything you can think of that was bad in this town was in this place,” he said.
It initially looked like a bomb had gone off inside when he first walked through the building. The kitchen is now the office for his business, and the dining area is the Iron Horse Recovery Hall, where 29 meetings take place each week. Kasper plans for a cluster of food carts out front to waft delicious smells inside the recovery hall and breathe new life into the property.
He’s leasing the building at 10412 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., with the first right of refusal, but he wants to buy the restaurant and the motel. And thanks to his business’s success, he says, he has the money to do it. Both properties are owned by the same people.
“I want it all,” Kasper said.
He spent about $40,000 fixing up the former restaurant. The Value Motel will cost about 10 times as much, he estimates.
At Iron Horse, about 25 people gathered for Monday’s noontime AA meeting sitting in booths, tables and chairs — relics from the restaurant days. Kasper’s penchant for neon signs is on display, none bigger than the sign for Fatty Patty’s, which his mother owned and where he grew up waiting tables. Neon signs advertising different brands of alcohol hang backward, facing the wall — “to say (expletive) you to alcohol and drugs,” Kasper said.
“We’ve really been praying for that property forever,” Smith said. “We’ve definitely rescued many people from that motel back in the day.”
A place that had been left for dead is being transformed, just like many people who have gone through recovery, she said. While Kasper is funding the project on his own, her organization and others like it are offering help however it may be needed.
Kasper insists he doesn’t want any money from people with strings attached. He’s able to give back and has invested a lot into the motel, striving to make it safe and functional for those who are in the position he was in two decades ago.
“People need to know there’s hope,” he said.