Development

JJ’s explosion takes a toll on neighboring Plaza Vista project

Updated: 2013-05-01T04:42:42Z

By KEVIN COLLISON

The Kansas City Star

The Plaza Vista project suffered millions of dollars of damage in the February natural gas explosion that destroyed JJ’s restaurant, the latest challenge for the unlucky development formerly known as the West Edge.

The developer of the project said the glass-curtain wall facade on the 10-story office tower, which faced the blast site at 910 W. 48th St., was extensively damaged. Its roof also had to be replaced because embers hurtled by the explosion burned into it.

The Feb. 19 explosion killed one person and injured 15 others. It was caused when gas leaking inside the restaurant from a pipe damaged outside the building by a contractor was detonated, possibly by a kitchen stove pilot light.

Dave Harrison, vice president of VanTrust Real Estate, said the majority of the more than 500 glass panels in the curtain wall facing JJ’s will have to be replaced along with about three dozen separate windows. Despite the damage, the project is expected to meet its Nov. 1 deadline for the Polsinelli law firm to be inside.

“It was not just broken windows,” Harrison said. “Because of the pitting and everything that hit it, even little pieces damaged the glass. … There were a huge number of embers that burned into the roof membrane and insulation.”

It was the latest blow for the office building and hotel project originally begun as the West Edge in 2004 by advertising guru Bob Bernstein.

During blasting to excavate the project’s underground garage in 2006, a JJ’s waiter was injured by a hurtling rock. Construction stalled in 2008, Bernstein’s development company filed for bankruptcy the next year, and VanTrust bought it in 2010. Its completion this fall would come five years after its original goal.

Plaza Vista was not alone in the collateral damage from the explosion.

Steve Rothstein estimated his office building adjoining the JJ’s site at 4739 Belleview experienced damage in the range of $10 million. All tenants are out of the building, which was completed in 1984.

“We’re still waiting to hear back from the insurance company,” Rothstein said Tuesday. “There was some structural damage but we’ve had no final report yet.”

Another two-story building next door at 906 W. 48th St., which housed House of Elan medical spa, also has been closed since the explosion and may be demolished, its owner has said.

JJ’s itself had a loss in the millions of dollars including the building, equipment and its extensive wine inventory, co-owner David Frantze said, and no decision has been made on whether it will be rebuilt.

There also had been lingering issues involving natural gas near the restaurant site that delayed demolition and rubble removal.

Missouri Gas Energy shut off gas at the meter serving JJ’s at the time of the accident, but the main line in the street that ran gas to that meter was still operating seven weeks later, according to the contractor hired to do demolition work.

Chuck Cacioppo of Industrial Wrecking Co. was making routine clearance checks with utility companies before beginning work last month when he learned the main gas line was still live.

“The power and light was done, but they told me the gas hadn’t been cleared,” he said. “They had not killed the gas at JJ’s yet.”

Following Cacioppo’s inquiry, city records show Missouri Gas Energy moved on April 12 to cut off the main gas line serving 910, 920 and 922 W. 48th St., the properties that included JJ’s and House of Elan.

A spokeswoman for MGE could not immediately reach company officials for a response about the timing of the cutoff.

Other nearby buildings were damaged as well. Mark Ebbitt of Shelton Travel Services estimated it would cost $300,000 to repair his West Plaza retail building across from JJ’s on Belleview.

Joe Montanari of Montanari Fine Arts Jewelry at 4810 Belleview had roof damage and broken glass.

“By and large, what happened to us is minor,” Montanari said. “We’re glad it was no worse.”

Despite the extensive damage to the Plaza Vista office building roof and glass facade, Harrison also was relieved.

“From a building and structural standpoint, it could have been a lot worse when you think of the impact and how close it was,” Harrison said. “At first blush, when we saw the fire in the distance, we wondered, ‘Oh my God, what happened to the building?’”

Inspections continue for other possible damage from the explosion, and work continues with the insurance company, the developer said, but he still hopes the Nov. 1 occupancy deadline will be met.

W. Russell Welsh, chairman and chief executive of Polsinelli, said he believed his law firm would be in its new home on time.

“We’ve had some meetings with VanTrust and J.E. Dunn Construction and they’re doing a terrific job,” Welsh said. “They’re working fast and furious on the interior while they’re working on the outside.

“We are very optimistic we’ll be moving in in October as originally planned.”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @kckansascity.

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