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Deadly Durham gas explosion damaged downtown properties worth over $100 million

It will take time to determine the full financial impact of Wednesday’s gas explosion in downtown Durham that left one person dead and more than two dozen others injured.

The 18 buildings damaged by the blast and fire, including two now condemned, have a total assessed tax value of about $108.6 million, according to county land records.

They include buildings as far from the site as the N.C. Mutual building on West Chapel Hill Street and The Federal bar on West Main Street.

A total of 23 businesses sustained damage, according to Downtown Durham Inc., though that number could change, said Gina Rozier, director of marketing for the advocacy group.

With state and local investigators still on the scene, assessors for many local companies are only now starting to get access to the properties.

Condemned buildings

Wednesday’s explosion left one person dead — Kaffeinate coffee shop owner Kong Lee — and more than two dozen others injured, when a gas line was damaged by a contractor digging underground to install fiber cables. Utilis, the company managing the digging, on Friday declined to comment on the incident or say whether it had hired a subcontractor.

The companies most affected by the blast were Kaffeinate and Prescient, a construction technology company that moved to Durham from Denver two years ago. They shared a building at 115 N. Duke St., now destroyed.

In a Facebook post on Thursday morning, the children of Lee wrote that the coffee shop’s future is uncertain.

“Kaffeinate is closed indefinitely,” the post said. “It always was and always will be for our dad. We’ve been discussing it and hope one day to be able to rebuild and re-open and bring his memory back to life.”

On Friday, Prescient said it wasn’t ready to discuss its future plans for its headquarters. The office, which had dozens of employees and housed the firm’s executives, is now rubble.

The company’s employees are now being asked to operate out of the company’s manufacturing facility about a half hour away in Mebane. The company is also offering counseling to the employees who evacuated the building minutes before the explosion.

The city also condemned the building that houses the Ingram Collection, a famed collection of antique Porsche sports cars owned by former GlaxoSmithKline CEO Bob Ingram. The status of the 80 cars, likely worth tens of millions of dollars, has not been reported, though video shot from overhead showed several damaged.

Other buildings on the 100 block of North Duke Street that house the Mexican restaurant Torero’s and the upscale seafood restaurant Saint James were ordered to remain unoccupied while repairs are made, Durham Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said Thursday, though he noted they shouldn’t need to be torn down.

Saint James owner Matt Kelly said the restaurant is closed temporarily, but added that an engineer has deemed the building structurally safe. But how long it will take to return is up in the air, Kelly said, as the restaurant awaits a decision on an insurance claim.

“We want to continue what we do every day: turn the lights on, cook and be hospitable,” Kelly said Friday.

However the West Village apartment buildings on Morgan Street have been cleared for residents to return, Zoldos said.

Business community rallies

In the hours after the devastation, business owners in downtown Durham immediately began to offer help, from grassroots fundraising to donating food and water to first responders. Other coffee shops in the city, such as Joe Van Gogh, were accepting donations for the Lee family on Friday.

Longtime Durham restaurant owner Fergus Bradley was parked behind his Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom when Duke Street blew up Wednesday morning.

He said he ran across the Brightleaf Square parking lot, through the back of the mangled Prescient building and out onto Duke Street, by that time littered with rubble and glass.

“I saw people lying in the street, bloodied and cut up,” Bradley said.

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Workers board up a West Village apartment building, located across the street from where an explosion happened Wednesday, on Friday, April 12, 2019. Many of the building’s windows broke when the blast occurred. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

Since then, Maverick’s has become central to the recovery effort, feeding first responders over the last couple days and the rallying point for displaced residents of the nearby apartments seeking information and hotel vouchers. Bradley’s restaurants, including The Federal and Irish pub James Joyce beyond Maverick’s, fared pretty well, escaping with only broken windows and some ceiling damage.

“Between our restaurants, we have 70 employees working on an hourly basis who rely on this for income,” Bradley said about reopening. “This tragedy is terrible, but we wanted to bring some normalcy back to people’s lives. ... The best thing for the businesses affected by this is for the community to show support by shopping and dining.”

Starting Saturday morning, Bradley said there will be a two-block event on Main Street from Morgan to Gregson with proceeds going to victims of the explosion.

With street closures possible for the foreseeable future, the financial hit to small business owners near Brightleaf Square could continue for a while, Rozier said.

Rozier added that DDI is hoping to put together a consortium of local lenders to provide financial assistance to businesses. The project is still in the planning phase, but DDI has already seen “an interest and willingness to participate” from M&F Bank, BB&T, PNC and Self Help Credit Union, she said.

“We are awestruck and yet not surprised by the way the downtown community has come together to support each other during this crisis,” Rozier said in an email.

Here is a list of the affected buildings and businesses:

Studebaker Building

115 N. Duke St.

Prescient HQ

115 N. Duke St.

Kaffeinate

115A N. Duke St.

Main Street Clinical Associates

115 N. Duke St.





800 & 802 West Main



Torero’s

800 & 802 W. Main St.





806 West Main



Saint James Seafood

806 W. Main St.

The Ingram Collection - Bob Ingram - Porsche Collection & Event Space

111 N. Duke St. (part of 806 W. Main St. property)





West Village



West Village Apartments - Phase 1

206 N. Duke St. & 212 N. Duke St.





700 & 710 West Main St.



Duke University - Duke/Durham Neighborhood Partnership

700 W. Main St. (corner of Fuller St)

Duke Medicine Development Office

700 W. Main St. (corner of Fuller St)

Duke Real Estate Office

700 W. Main St. (corner of Fuller St)





WEST VILLAGE



Rambler’s Craft Beer

115 Fuller St. (lower level parking deck)





BRIGHTLEAF SQUARE

905 W. Main St





Peabody Place

112 S. Duke St.

Morgan Imports

113 S. Gregson St.





1000 West Main St.



Fifi’s

1000 W. Main St.

Other End of the Leash

1000 W. Main St.





N.C. Mutual Building

411 W. Chapel Hill St.





WEST MAIN ST.

900 Block of Main St.

The Federal

914 W. Main St.

Shooters



Anothertyme Building (vacant building)



New Goorsha Coffee Shop

910 W. Main St. (back of building/separate space)

Maverick’s

900 W. Main St.

Devine’s Restaurant & Sports

904 W. Main St.

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