One year after JJ's, nearby businesses remain tangled in insurance red tape

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - *In the media player above, never-before-seen surveillance video shows the moment when JJ’s restaurant exploded into a ball of flames one year ago.  The images do not show the restaurant; instead, from inside the lobby of Shelton Travel across the street, you can see glass shatter and doors open the moment of the blast.  A second angle from the back of the travel agency looking toward the lobby also shows the moment of impact.*

Mark Ebbitts can easily spot damage to the exterior of his travel agency on the Plaza’s west side.

“This piece of brick, which is pretty dramatic, is one that got blown off,” Ebbitts said.  

His business, Shelton Travel, sits across the street from what’s left of JJ’s restaurant. On Feb. 19, 2013 at 6:02 p.m., JJ’s erupted into a ball of flames due to an underground gas line break. One person died and several others were injured.

Surveillance cameras from inside his business caught the exact moment of the explosion, which shattered his windows and doors. Now, one year later, Ebbitts continues to battle with one of his insurance carriers over needed repairs to the outside of his building.

“It's gone on for a year. We really want to get this resolved,” he said.

A structural engineer’s report shows signs of “racking” at the time of the explosion, which caused structural damage.

Ebbitts said one of his insurance carriers, Travelers, has offered to pay $40,000 for repairs. He estimates the cost to fix the outside could reach $300,000. That includes $50,000 he already spent to replace the damaged roof.

"We took out a loan at Missouri Bank and got the roof replaced,” Ebbitts said.

Dr. John Verstaete, the owner of House of Elan, sums up the past year of dealing with insurance companies this way:

"It's honestly been hell,” he said.

The House of Elan sits right next door to JJ's. The building has sat empty while crews work to repair the extensive damage.

"In my opinion, they've had to do so much; it might as well have been torn down,” Verstraete said.  

He now operates his business out of a midtown location at Linnwood and Main Street.

Verstraete said he would prefer to have the old business torn down and start over. Instead, his insurance carrier has hired contractors to do the repairs.

"It's like having a car that's almost totaled,” Verstraete said.  “They say it's fixable and it's cheaper to fix it then tear it down."

Despite frustrations, there are signs of progress. Some neighboring businesses have been repaired. The inside of Ebbitts’ travel agency has been restored. He said his insurance company is now working on repairing the outside.

As for the building to the north of JJ's, its future remains uncertain. An attorney for the owner tells Call for Action what happens at that site depends on city legal issues like zoning, code and engineering requirements. A decision could be months away.

"It's the gateway to the Plaza. We just want to see something done with it," Ebbitts said about the future of the JJ’s site.  

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