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Jesse Morreale has a hearing on the First Avenue Hotel this morning

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Three weeks after the city red-tagged the First Avenue Hotel, home of El Diablo and Sketch, the building remains dark while owner Jesse Morreale tries to figure out why the city suddenly decided the 106-year-old structure presents such a safety threat. This morning's Board of Appeals hearing could be enlightening.

Early in the morning of July 11, the city slapped the First Avenue Hotel -- a circa 1906 building that Morreale, helped by the Denver Office of Economic Development, bought in 2008 -- with notices that the building was unsafe and must be vacated immediately. One of Morreale's questions for today: What made it unsafe now? It was safe enough for the city to issue a temporary occupancy permit, so that Sketch and El Diablo could open two years ago.

Another, larger question: Is it possible to get any century-old structure up to the city's current code standards? Would the Brown Palace pass muster, for example?

A year ago, Morreale and the city had an agreement in place to continue with repair work -- some of which would be postponed until the upper floors of the building were occupied. And until this month, that was the last official communication between the parties. After personnel shifts in the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development -- which has had an interim director for over a year -- Morreale hadn't heard anything else from the city until the signs were placed on his building. There was certainly no warning that such action was imminent.

Since then, he's had several meetings with Denver officials, mostly aimed at getting his restaurants back open, including the most recent confab on July 23.

Here's how Kelly Leid, director of Development Services for the city's planning department, summarizes that meeting in a June 24 letter to Morreale:

And here's how Morreale responded to Leid:

In the midst of that correspondence, Morreale got word that after weeks of legal wrangling, the city had finally granted his request for a hearing before the Board of Appeals. So you can expect the action -- and the language -- to get much more heated this morning at 8:30 a.m., in the Webb building at 201 West Colfax Avenue.

The hearing is open to the public.

Peter Park, the director of the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development appointed by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, is now teaching at Harvard, and his job in Denver is still empty. Read how Park envisioned planning a city -- through a video game -- in Jared Jacang Maher's "Building for the Future."

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