Jesse Morreale has decided he can't fight city hall on two fronts. And so after last call on Saturday, October 27, he'll close Rockbar, the hipster hangout he opened in the motel at 3015 East Colfax Avenue that he bought almost seven years ago; the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses declined to renew Rockbar's liquor license earlier this month.
The other front? The First Avenue hotel, the circa 1905 building at 101 Broadway that Morreale purchased over four years ago with help from the city. Now Morreale is facing an October 31 deadline from the city there.
Two years after Morreale opened Rockbar in a rundown motel at 3015 East Colfax Avenue that he renamed the All-Inn -- he planned to put a boutique hotel in the place, but the plunging economy took that idea down with it -- Morreale purchased the First Avenue Hotel. The dilapidated, circa 1905 building had been empty for years (the top floors far longer than that); eager to get development going along that stretch of Broadway, the city even kicked in with a loan from the Office of Economic Development. And after more than a year of work, Morreale opened two restaurants in the building, first Sketch and then El Diablo.
But he did so under temporary permits, and in July the city suddenly red-tagged the structure as unsafe, ordering that it be vacated immediately. And so the building and both restaurants were closed for three weeks, until a Board of Appeals ruling determined that Morreale could reopen the First Avenue until October 1, while he and the city worked to get on the same page.
The Denver Department of Community Planning and Development subsequently gave Morreale until October 31 to come up with an acceptable work plan for modifications that the city says are required. The problem? Morreale doesn't agree that any repairs need to be done. And discussion has been largely stalled for a month.
Asked this week for an update on the status of the First Avenue Hotel, Andrea Burns, spokesman for Community Planning, sent this:
We have given the property owner guidance on the need to make meaningful progress in resolving outstanding work plan items for 101 N. Broadway, per the Board of Appeals July 2012 ruling. At month's end the City will assess next steps based upon what -- if any -- progress has been made on building repairs. As of today, the property owner has not submitted anything new from the work plan for Development Services to review.
Keep reading for a response from Morreale. Responds Morreale:
This is just another in the long list of statements by the City that are misleading in some instances, inaccurate in others, and damaging in all cases.
Since the Board of Appeals ruling, it has been only our team that has taken any positive and proactive steps to try to bring these matters to resolution, despite the City's actions taken to thwart our efforts. In addition to the City continuing to misleadingly describe what needs to be done as "building repairs," which is NOT what needs to be accomplished and they know it, also contrary to Ms. Burns' statement that we have "not submitted anything new...for...review," on August 30th it was our team that submitted a specific, appropriate, and achievable proposal that would have served to bring this all to resolution.
Rather than responding to that proposal in good faith and keep the focus only on resolving the allegedly unresolved "work plan" matters, on that date the City instead alleged that there are additional topics that need to be resolved prior to this all being completed. This type of action by the City has done nothing but further complicate and obstruct what should have been a simple conversation, delaying resolution of the entire matter even further.
Despite the City's blatant efforts to additionally complicate, delay, and obstruct resolution to all of this, I and my team continue to put an immense amount of effort into trying to bring this all to closure. We intend to continue in our resolve to work with the City, and we only hope that very soon they will cease being obstructive to our efforts, and that they will also stop sending out misleading-thus-alarming statements about us, the property, and what has been going on. These types of actions by the City do nothing but distract both sides from the necessary task at hand, while at the same time alarming our employees and further damaging public perception about and consumer confidence in our businesses.
Our hope is that the City will very soon begin to work in good faith with us towards our goal of bringing this all to an appropriate and fair conclusion, because only in that way can we protect the important contributions that these businesses and the jobs make to Denver.
The clock is still ticking.
There will be a farewell bash this weekend at Rockbar; the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses had declined to renew its liquor license earlier this month, citing both the venue's failure to prove that 25 percent of its sales were from something other than alcohol -- a requirement for the hotel and restaurant liquor license that Rockbar had -- as well as neighborhood concerns. Both issues went far outside the scope of the hearing that the city had called on the renewal, Morreale charges.
And the party isn't over: Despite the looming deadline with the city, on Tuesday, October 30, El Diablo will be host its annual Dia de los Muertos Celebration, complete with a silent auction of skull art created by tattoo artists; all proceeds from the auction will benefit Mi Casa Resource Center.
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Morreale is just hoping it doesn't turn into a second wake. A version of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter covering the local food and drink scene. Find out how to subscribe here.