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Pastor wants to buy former strip club

Kenny Kemp
Pastor Art Hage (right) kneels to pray with Karl Priest in the parking lot of the Pink Pony, a former strip club in Cross Lanes. The men are raising money to purchase the building and turn it into an outreach center.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A local pastor is raising money to purchase the building that once housed the Pink Pony, a Cross Lanes strip club which became notorious in 2003 when Powerball winner Jack Whittaker was drugged and robbed of a half-million dollars cash there."It has such a bad reputation and we feel like we could make it good," said Art Hage, who is a pastor at several churches in Putnam and Cabell counties."Gambling, drinking, all of it's bad and it produces a society that's out of control. It has got to be stopped," Hage said.The club lost its liquor license in 2003, not long after Whittaker said club employees drugged him and took a briefcase containing more than $500,000 from his car. Charges against two club employees accused of the robbery were eventually dropped and the money was recovered.The club's owners reapplied for the license in 2008, but their efforts were initially rebuffed by the county Planning Commission, which concluded that opening a new strip club in the Pink Pony location would violate a county ordinance that prevents adult businesses from opening within 2,000 feet of a business that serves alcohol. The Pink Pony's location on Goff Mountain Road is within 2,000 feet of a TGI Friday's restaurant, which serves alcohol.The building has been vacant since last year when a judge denied the club's appeal seeking to reinstate the license. Hage, who also operates the Faith Mission in Hurricane, said he has been trying to find a location for an outreach center in Kanawha County."A friend of mine encouraged me to look into the Cross Lanes location," Hage said. "There's a need for a church in that area."Hage's friend, Karl Priest, who lives not far from the site of the former strip club, said he envisions great things for what he termed an "evil" site. "I'd like to see 'Jesus saves' on the sign that now says Pink Pony," Priest said. "It's a location where literally thousands of vehicles pass per day."Priest said he's aware of the location's history and said he met with Hage last week in the site's parking lot to pray about the venture."I'm aware of what happened to Mr. Whittaker over there and even if that hadn't happened, the atmosphere of a strip joint is just so degrading," he said. "It's degrading to females and the neighborhood ... the evil that happened to Jack Whittaker there is terribly sad and it would be great to have the flipside of the coin there."Hage is collecting donations to cover the cost of the $795,000 building.
Beverly Young-Luby, the broker showing the property, said she received one call from Hage inquiring about the price of the building."He had a broker friend call me about it but he has not been inside the premises and hasn't written an offer contingent upon him being able to raise money to buy it," Young-Luby said.She said there have been several offers made by others on the former club, and that another broker currently has someone "strongly interested."
Hage said if he's not able to raise the full amount of the purchase price in a year, the money would be used at the Hurricane mission."The money won't go to waste, because we'll still be able to use it to help people," he said.Helping people with addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling are Hage's focus, he said. He also concentrates on helping those who suffer from mental handicaps, he said."What we try to do is refer people to services and try to help them. We're not government sponsored, and therefore, we have to do it all on our own. We're desperate to help these people, and I think the laws need to be changed to help mentally ill people," Hage said. "It breaks our hearts because people look at them as people who are problems to society, but they're very intelligent people that need help from the government."We want to make an impact on communities and change the wrongs by helping people who need help," he said.To contact Art Hage, call the Faith Mission in Hurricane at 304-562-9740.
Reach Kate White at 304-348-1723.  
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