Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Jesse Morreale's First Avenue Hotel still faces an October 31 deadline

Jesse Morreale has decided he can't fight city hall on two fronts. And so after last call on Saturday, he'll close Rockbar, the hipster hangout he opened six years ago. The other front? First Avenue Hotel at 101 Broadway, which could have a date with destiny next Thursday if the city holds to its most recent deadline.

Two years after Morreale bought a rundown motel at 3015 East Colfax Avenue, renamed it the All-Inn with an idea of turning it into a boutique hotel -- the plunging economy took that idea down with it -- and instead opened Rockbar in the first-floor space, he 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."

Responds Morreale: "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."

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.

Morreale is just hoping it doesn't turn into a second wake.

Five years after the First Avenue Hotel made its debut, Denver's Carnegie Library opened in Civic Center Park. See what the space evolved into in our "Historic McNichols Building" slide show.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun