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Ken Block, CityPlace developer: ‘How do we get our neighbors back to their lives?’

Five things to know: The Overland Park apartment fire

A massive eight-alarm fire consumed an apartment building under construction at a multimillion-dollar development in Overland Park on March 20. The blaze sparked fires at many homes in the nearby. The video includes footage from Overland Park Fire
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A massive eight-alarm fire consumed an apartment building under construction at a multimillion-dollar development in Overland Park on March 20. The blaze sparked fires at many homes in the nearby. The video includes footage from Overland Park Fire

Ken Block, the Kansas City developer who is often out of town to tend to his far-flung projects, was in town on Monday when he got a call from an associate to tell him apartment buildings at CityPlace caught fire.

“I was at my office, I had actually been at the site a little earlier,” Block, managing partner of Block Real Estate Services, said Wednesday. “I got a call from one of my friends or associates who said it was on fire. I immediately dropped everything and went to the site and got there around 4:15 or so. Obviously, I was devastated in many ways.”

CityPlace is one of Block’s most prized developments, a $450 million investment to turn long-vacant ground at College Boulevard near U.S. Highway 69 into a mixed-use project that Block liked to describe as a city within a city.

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A massive blaze on Monday afternoon, sparked by a welder’s torch during construction at the CityPlace site, burned one apartment building to the ground and severely damaged another, enough so that it cannot be repaired. The two buildings were under construction and had no tenants. No significant injuries occurred from the fire at the construction site, although burning embers caused damage at nearby houses.

“I was so upset out there at the site the other night and really the only thing I was thinking about, first and foremost, I hope to god nobody was hurt. I hope they got out of their homes in a timely manner,” Block said.

Minor damage was sustained at other buildings at CityPlace close to the fire. One apartment building at The Royale at CityPlace, the name for the residential portion of Block’s development, had 75 residents living there. Those residents have returned to their dwellings.

Since the fire, Block said he has primarily been dealing with helping those affected by the fire find accommodations, set up a relief fund and assisting with getting in contact with insurance companies.

“These people are in our community, we’re in their community,” Block said. “We’re not just the guys next door. We think we’re part of the fabric of this community. It’s important for us to do everything we can.”

Pauletta Ashby and her son Damian Ashby returned to their Overland Park home Tuesday afternoon near the CityPlace development, only to find everything was burnt and gone. Pauletta recounted how she survived the eight-alarm fire while salvaging few

Block said Monday’s fire was the first incident of its kind for his company, which traces its lineage back to Block’s father, Allen Block, more than 70 years ago. Block had no estimate for the value of the fire’s loss and is working with insurance adjusters to sort through the damage.

The Overland Park Fire Department completed its investigation of the fire and turned responsibility of the scene to Overland Park City Hall.

Block said he may be able to start clearing away the damage next week. He plans to rebuild what was lost at CityPlace.

“Yes, we will rebuild this project,” Block said. “We will work closely with the city on all aspects of that. Our goal still remains to create a wonderful community that can be additive to the fabric of Overland Park.”

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt

The fire was reported Monday afternoon in a building under construction at College Boulevard and Nieman Road. Flaming debris from the blaze was sparking fires at nearby homes. This video includes footage shot by Jason Boatright.

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