Repairs to Plaza businesses exceed $300,000

ASHLAND — The cost of repairing damage caused during a March 19 fire on the Plaza has topped $300,000, said property and business owners.

A few of the businesses affected by the fire have reopened or are planning to open soon, said Sam Wong, who owns the building most damaged by the fire, but others are stuck waiting for repairs.

Gold & Gems Jewelry owner Ron Hansen hopes to reopen his doors as early as two weeks from now, he said, after an overhaul of nearly the entire store.

New carpet, freshly painted walls, polished jewelry and a detailed scrubbing of the furniture have knocked down the once overbearing smell of smoke "for the most part," Hansen said.

He said the smell occasionally lingers in front of the store when crews from Medford-based Batzer Construction work in the adjacent building's staircase.

The cost of repairing the store so far has amounted to about $75,000, said Hansen, but that figure could quadruple when his loss of business is calculated.

"We hope things will come through with our insurance," he said. "We're still going to need to give all the claims to the insurance company."

Wong, whose building houses Hana Sushi, the former American Trails store, and the Ashland Painters Union and two apartments on the second floor, said repairing damages caused by the blaze has topped $250,000 and may keep climbing.

Hana Sushi will be lucky to reopen by the first week of June, said owner Bill Barchet, as the ceiling is still being repaired there.

"It'll be sometime in June," Barchet said.

Construction crews replaced the ceiling trusses in the former American Trails store, and reframed a portion of the inside, said Kyle Lumsden, a project manager for Batzer Construction.

He said a subcontractor will complete the remaining work in Hana Sushi, as his crews finish about two weeks' worth of work revamping the staircase where the fire was determined to have started.

Once the staircase is complete, crews will begin repainting the second story of Wong's building, and replacing its air-conditioning ducts, Lumsden said.

Wong said a new fire sprinkler system also will be installed.

The construction is running about a month behind schedule, said Lumsden, mostly because of delays from dealing with insurance companies.

"As things get approved, we're just trying to get them done, and get people back in business," he said.

Barchet said Hana Sushi will lose "well above" $50,000 because of losing business, buying new paint, restocking food and replacing furniture and flooring.

Barchet said having his doors closed for so long is frustrating, especially as tourists are beginning to pour into Ashland.

"This whole insurance thing, it seems like it's designed to take the maximum amount of time and resources," he said. "There are a lot of restaurants out there that are very close to the edge, and wouldn't be able to survive something like this. They just wouldn't be able to hold on to their employees, or cover their expenses through the whole thing; they would just go under."

Barchet said he will have to do some rehiring, as a few of his employees had to "move on."

Hong Kong Bar, located above Thread Hysteria, will be closed until the staircase is repaired because it's the primary fire escape.

Wong said he hopes all of the fire-related repairs will be finished in a month.

A new souvenir shop and children's store, Petaluma-based Crackerjax, is scheduled to open in the former American Trails store when work wraps up, Wong said.

Raymond Lee Wilson, a 37-year-old homeless man, has been accused of starting the fire, which was spotted by an Ashland police officer shortly before 3 a.m. March 19. Wilson also is accused of tossing rocks through the windows of two other businesses, stealing from one, and vandalizing a vehicle that same night.

Police believe Wilson dragged at least one trash can off the sidewalk and lit it on fire inside the stairwell, which caused the blaze.

Wilson faces 24 charges, including five counts of first-degree arson; one count each of second-degree criminal mischief, burglary and theft; three counts of reckless endangering; 10 counts of first-degree criminal mischief and menacing; two counts of third-degree criminal mischief; and a first-degree menacing charge.

Wilson pleaded not guilty to all charges in Jackson County Circuit Court, but his trial date has not been set. He is currently under psychiatric analysis at a state hospital, records show.

"Obviously Mr. Wilson has serious mental health issues," said Jackson County prosecutor Adam Peterson during Wilson's arraignment hearing on March 22.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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