Thursday, February 18, 2016

Picking up the pieces

by Mary Wilson

On a cool, ordinary October morning last year, Grandview resident Kevin Verhulst began what would soon turn into an extraordinary day. As the owner of the Guckert building on the corner of Main and Grandview in Grandview’s downtown, Verhulst lives just a few blocks from his business property.

“I can’t remember if I heard sirens or anything at first,” said Verhulst.

A neighbor ran to his house and began banging on his door shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday, October 5, and informed Verhulst that his building was on fire. He immediately drove down to the corner.

“I actually walked down the sidewalk along Grandview Road, alongside my building and underneath a ladder, when I realized there was smoke coming out of the corner.”

As he was walking back, Verhulst remembers the corner window shattering and he realized he should head across the street. Initially, he thought there would just be a little bit of damage to his building.

“I kept thinking, ‘they’re going to put the fire out and it will be done,’” said Verhulst. “But, it just kept going and going. They’d have it out, and then all of a sudden, it would flare up again and they just followed it north down Grandview Road.”

When he saw the flames coming out of the roof, Verhulst realized the fire was more extensive than he originally thought. Not seeing any of his tenants out front, he walked to the back of the building and found them there. He noticed that a vehicle belonging to one of his tenants was outside, but the tenant was nowhere to be seen.

“At that point, I informed one of the firemen that someone was still up there,” said Verhulst.

The tenant, who lived in the corner apartment for over thirty years, died in the fire. A Grandview firefighter was also seriously injured in the rescue attempt.

During the fire, Verhulst recalls seeing water and debris inside the ground-floor businesses. “Fire is one thing; water is a whole separate issue,” said Verhulst. “I never really thought that the damage would be this catastrophic.”

At the end of the day, Verhulst said he was in shock. He later realized that he can only do so much, and decided he needed to rebuild.

“The most frustrating part about this whole process has simply been waiting to get started,” said Verhulst. “Because there was a death in the upstairs corner apartment, the insurance company had to take all the necessary precautions to ensure there wouldn’t be any lawsuit.”

Due to the wait on the insurance company, further damage to the property had incurred, such as mold and damage from the elements. Today, the Guckert building has been completely gutted and Verhulst is ready to clean the mold and smoke damage. The roof has also been replaced. Once the interior cleanup is finished, Verhulst said he will start the rebuilding process.

At the time of the fire, the property was home to seven apartments on the second floor. Verhulst, who purchased the property in 2000, plans to rebuild the seven apartments with five retail spots on the ground floor.

“I heard that upstairs, at one point, there was a roller rink,” said Verhulst. “Then in the ‘40s and ‘50s it became professional offices. In the late ‘60s, the upstairs was converted into the apartments.”

Sometime in the ‘70s, the apartments were remodeled with paneling and dropped ceilings with the addition of more electrical units mixed in with the old. Verhulst said that this is possibly what led to the fire on October 5, 2015.

All of Verhulst’s residential tenants have found new places to live since the fire. The businesses on the ground floor have also relocated, with MaidPro moving right around the corner on Main Street. Naveah Salon had another location in Leawood and the owner of that business combined the two businesses there.

“I talked to her (Naveah) and she has no plans of coming back,” said Verhulst. “The Royalty Room moved to Lee’s Summit. Basically, I will have all new tenants.”

Verhulst, along with the help of some architects, is looking into the possibility of tax credits to help in the rebuilding process. He said that although his building is in the historic district of Grandview, it is not itself a registered historic site. Unfortunately, the process for that would take Verhulst to November of this year.

“The problem with that is that any work I complete before we get that designation is completely on me,” said Verhulst. “That work would not qualify for reimbursement. Luckily, insurance has covered income loss for up to a year.”

The City of Grandview, according to Verhulst, has been very easy to work with throughout the last several months, even recommending the architect that he has met with at the site.

“I think they were very excited to find out I intend to rebuild,” said Verhulst. “Selling it as-is or tearing it down wouldn’t help me out any to walk away from it and it certainly wouldn’t help the city.”

The city has also offered to help market the property once renovations are completed. Verhulst prefers more retail than offices in the future.

“Grandview needs more retail,” he said. “We are overwhelmed with offices that don’t benefit the city.”

Most likely, the renovations will be out-of-pocket for Verhulst. If the property is deemed historic, Verhulst can then apply for federal historic preservation tax credits (up to $75,000). 

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