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.