After a three-and-a-half hour hearing yesterday before the Board of Appeals that considers objections to decisions by the city's planning department, Jesse Morreale got the okay to immediately reopen his First Avenue Hotel building -- which had been closed by the city three weeks ago, slapped with notices to vacate because it was "unsafe."
This was the same building that the city had allowed to open three years ago under a temporary occupancy permit; in August 2011, when El Diablo turned one, Morreale was still working with the city on a punch-list of work-plan projects that would make that permit permanent. But then came a change of personnel in the city's planning department -- which has been under an interim director since Peter Park left to teach at Harvard -- and the city's paper trail went cold...until the planning department sent one big message on July 10: Morreale and his restaurants had to vacate the building immediately, because the city now deemed it unsafe.
For three weeks, the building was empty and the restaurants closed -- until Morreale finally won the right to a hearing before the Board of Appeals. And at the end of that hearing, the five-member board ordered that Morreale be allowed to reopen immediately. He must still work with the city on repairs over the next sixty days, but in the meantime, the restaurants will start serving again today.
Here's an excerpt of the statement Morreale released yesterday:
"Today the board of appeals awarded exactly what we have been asking for in meetings with the City since July 10th -- lifting of the unsafe designation and orders to vacate -- so we can put our staff back to work while we bring these unresolved matters to some appropriate, fair final resolution and closure.
"Over the three weeks of closure, 137 employees of El Diablo and Sketch were negatively impacted by the unwarned closing by City inspectors of the historic hotel that housed the two restaurants. "In a further effort to assist our dedicated, talented, and loyal staff, upon reopening we will be implementing a fundraising effort to try to help them immediately," says Morreale. "100% of the money contributed to the fund will be distributed amongst the staff in an effort to help mitigate the damages they've suffered due to these unfortunate circumstances."
And here's the word from the planning department:
"The board agreed that the repairs are necessary and that the work plan must be completed. The city is ready to work with the owner to expedite plan reviews and permits. We believe that in the coming weeks we can achieve our dual goals of ensuring public safety and putting people back to work on a permanent basis."
The First Avenue Hotel was a major landmark on the "Miracle Mile," as this stretch of Broadway was once known. In 2005, we paid tribute to that stretch and more in the feature article "Give our regards to Broadway."