Jesse Morreale's First Avenue Hotel slapped with notice to vacate

If city officials find a hundred members of a gay men's chorus picnicking in front of City Hall today, they have only themselves to blame. The cast of Von Trapped, a coffee concert at the Buell this morning, were to have lunch at El Diablo -- but that was before the city slapped the First Avenue Hotel with a notice to vacate yesterday. Early yesterday morning, Jesse Morreale arrived at the First Avenue Hotel -- the once decrepit 106-year-old building that he made the focus of a $5 million renovation project -- to find that every door had been slapped with "Danger" signs, warning letters and notices to vacate signed by Michael Roach, Building Official with Development Services in the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development. Read one:

Continued occupancy of this structure poses an immediate hazard to the life safety of occupants and the public. Per 2011 Denver Building Code (CBC) Sections 104 and 105, the referenced site is ordered immediately vacated. Failure to immediately vacate shall result in further City action.

In response, Morreale swung the doors of the building's two restaurants -- Sketch and El Diablo -- wide open and started dialing. He called the mayor's office. He called his city council rep. He called the Denver Office of Economic Development, which gave the First Avenue Hotel project two loans. And he called lawyers.

Morreale has several lawyers, including one who's been handling a lawsuit filed by the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, which claims that El Diablo is not compliant with accessibility codes -- although the restaurant had to pass city inspection before it opened in August 2010.

In fact, Phil Gordon, the lawyer in that case, had been in touch with the Denver City Attorney's Office to ask why a public employee -- Roach, the same person who signed the notice to vacate -- had made a declaration in the CCDC lawsuit, a case involving two private parties. Last Friday, Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey had sent Gordon an e-mail reply suggesting a meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, then later sent another e-mail asking to move that meeting to the morning, because it would work better with Roach's schedule.

It did not work for Morreale and Gordon, though, and they did not have that meeting with the city Monday -- a meeting at which Morreale would have been informed of the imminent order, a spokeswoman for Community Planning says, adding that Morreale had not kept to an agreed-upon schedule for building improvements.

The devil is in the details.

After operating all day, Morreale's restaurants finally closed just after 10 p.m. last night -- 9News reporter Kirk Montgomery, who has a photo show at Sketch, held a fundraiser at Sketch yesterday evening. Will they be open today? That depends on the outcome of a meeting with the city that Morreale will definitely attend, set for 8 a.m. today, right when El Diablo is usually getting ready to serve breakfast.

You'll know how that meeting went if you see a gay men's chorus picnicking on the lawn of City Hall.

El Diablo opened in August 2010. Seven months later, it was named Best New Bar in the Best of Denver 2011. Read about it on our El Diablo Voice Places page.

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