Real Estate - Commercial

Businesses Reopen A Week After Grace Street Facade Collapse

By Emma Dill, posted Mar 15, 2024
A photo taken Friday shows the building near the corner of Grace and N. Second Streets where a facade collapsed last week. (Photo by Emma Dill)
A week after a brick facade on Grace Street collapsed in downtown Wilmington, the impacted businesses are reopening.

The exterior facade collapsed last Thursday night above the storefronts that house Taco Baby, Kat 5 Kava and Rumcow. The collapse left one person with minor injuries and forced the businesses to close while local officials determined whether the building was structurally sound.

That clearance came rather quickly. Last Friday, a structural engineer visited the building near the corner of Grace and N. Second Streets on Friday and “gave the all clear, with no indication of any structural failure,” according to Alex Riley, a communications and outreach coordinator with New Hanover County. As a result, the engineer deemed the building safe to occupy.

Kat 5 Kava at 123 Grace St. reopened its doors earlier this week, and Taco Baby reopened to customers and resumed regular business hours at 4 p.m. on Thursday, according to owner Joe Apkarian. He also owns Pour House and Eagle’s Dare. 

“I'm extremely proud and happy with my staff at Taco Baby to come in and flex and be able to get to get us open,” Apkarian said on Thursday.  

The facade collapse broke windows at Taco Baby and neighboring restaurant Rumcow. Apkarian said he was able to replace Taco Baby’s broken glass door within days of the collapse. The remaining broken window was replaced on Friday.

Before the replacement came, plywood covered the broken window. It was adorned with art from a former bartender at Pour House, Apkarian said –  a pink heart held together by two yellow Band-aids along with a message thanking Wilmington for continued support. 

The owners of Rumcow have also taken to social media in recent days to thank customers for their support, saying they hoped to reopen "very soon."

The building that houses the three businesses was built in 1940, according to New Hanover County property records. It was purchased in 1984 by the current owner Bruce Umstetter.

Reached earlier this week, Umstetter said the facade collapse was “totally unexpected.” He was on site several days this week working to help the businesses reopen.

“The building is fine; it’s structurally sound,” he said.

“Everybody's been great and cooperative and helpful,” he added, “all the way from EMS to the police department to health department to building inspections – the list goes on.”

As of press time on Friday, the cause of the facade collapse hadn't been confirmed by the structural engineer who reviewed the building.

Following the incident, Bryan Thomas, president of Monteith Construction, said the company received some inquiries about whether ongoing work on Project Grace could have contributed. Work on the redevelopment of the downtown library and Cape Fear Museum is taking place nearby at the corner of Grace and North Second streets.

“We don’t think there's any tie to it,” Thomas said earlier this week.

Thomas said Monteith is using practices intended to limit “vibrations” that could impact buildings surrounding the Project Grace site. For example, instead of using piles that are hammered or driven into the ground, Project Grace uses auger cast piles, which are drilled into the ground and then filled with concrete. That reduces vibrations by about 90%, Thomas said.

The demolition work to prepare the site for the construction of Project Grace also used practices that aimed to limit vibrations and impacts on surrounding buildings, he said.

Monteith has worked on renovations on about 20 downtown buildings over the years, Thomas said, and it’s not uncommon for aging facades to have problems.

“What we've seen on old buildings is just years of water intrusions, and ultimately, that just starts to break down the brick and the ties that hold the brick to the facades,” he said.

Thomas said the engineers who have inspected the building should ultimately be able to determine an exact cause. 

“It's a reminder to all of us that have buildings downtown that having professional engineers review the building for safety … is an important piece of maintaining these classic, old buildings,” Thomas said.
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