Cafe Society

Jesse Morreale and the First Avenue Hotel have another date with the city

Jesse Morreale has spent much of the summer in meetings with the city, which on July 10 slapped a "notice to vacate" on his First Avenue Hotel property - the circa 1906 building at 101 Broadway that holds Sketch and El Diablo, as well as Morreale's offices.

And those meetings aren't over yet. Last Wednesday, the city held an unusual public hearing over the renewal of the liquor license for Rockbar, the spot on the first floor of the All-Inn, the motel at 3015 East Colfax Avenue that Morreale bought six years ago. And a bigger date looms: the October 1 deadline set by the Board of Adjustment for Morreale to resolve the issues at the First Avenue Hotel. See also: - Jesse Morreale's First Avenue Hotel slapped with notice to vacate - Sketch reopens tonight and El Diablo reopens tomorrow after owner Jesse Morreale gets unanimous support from the Board of Appeals

Liquor-license renewals in Denver are usually a standard part of business -- but where Morreale is involved, nothing has been business as usual. The Rockbar hearing was originally set for August 8, the day the license officially expired (it was extended - at least temporarily), then moved to later in August, then moved again from daytime to an evening meeting because "our office received a number of complaints," according to Tom Downey, director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.

That September 24 meeting stretched more than four hours; the hearing officer, William Hobbs, is slated to send his recommended decision to the department this week. After that, "all parties/stakeholders will then have 10 days to submit objections/comments to our office," Downey wrote Denver City Council members last week. "I will take into consideration the Recommended Decision and all subsequent filings and issue a Final Order, most likely by close of business on Friday, October 5th."

That's four days after Morreale's October 1 deadline on the First Avenue Hotel. After the city papered the building with "notice to vacate" fliers that pronounced the structure unsafe, the restaurants were closed for three weeks. Then Morreale secured a hearing before Denver's Board of Appeals, an independent group of mayoral appointees, who determined that the building and the businesses in it be allowed to reopen until October 1, giving Morreale time to correct the problems cited by the city.

But that in itself is a problem, because Morreale and the city don't agree on what the problems are -- much less how to correct them. "The city has consistently said that any building code from any era may be used to accomplish the necessary repairs outlined in the work plan," says Andrea Burns, communications director for the Denver Department of Planning and Community Development. "This means that Mr. Morreale has broad flexibility to find the best possible solutions for the First Avenue Hotel building."

Adds Burns: "The city thought that we might, at this point, be dealing with a project that was not quite finished. Instead, it appears we have a project that hasn't even begun.... At this point, we have seen no plans submitted, no permits requested, no movement on this project."

Responds Morreale: "That is an extraordinarily misrepresentative statement. Since day one with the 101 Broadway project, and certainly subsequent to the day our position was unanimously affirmed by the Board of Appeals, we have made every possible effort to try to work with the City to bring these issues to final resolution.

"To this end we have had many communications with the City, both in person and in written form, and through these interactions we have done everything the City requested and more," he continues. "For the City to say that they "have seen no movement on this project,' when there is ongoing discussion happening about the matters, is completely disingenuous. Unfortunately, our efforts have not been met with what we would expect from a City team that is purporting itself to be working with us. Instead, our efforts have been met with ongoing obstructions and attempts to overcomplicate and deepen the distress that the City has already caused."

"For the City to say, 'we have seen no plans submitted, no permits requested,' is a blatant example of this. Nothing in the allegedly unfinished items on the 'work plan' states that any plans need to be submitted, or permits requested. To the contrary, the 'work plan' specifically allows for analysis to be presented that demonstrates that no further work needs to be completed.

"It is in trying to work with the City to agree upon those analyses that we have been focusing our efforts. There have been no further plans submitted or permits requested because given the current occupancy, there is no further work needed. My team and I intend to continue to try to work with the City to bring this all to resolution," Morreale concludes, "and only hope that the City chooses soon to change their destructive and intransigent tactics and instead starts applying the same good faith efforts that we have exercised."

October 1 is next Monday...and the clock is ticking.

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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