After three weeks of being on lock-down, thanks to the City of Denver, El Diablo and Sketch, Jesse Morreale's two restaurants housed in the First Avenue Hotel will reopen after the Board of Appeals unanimously agreed this morning that the restaurants, which were red-tagged by the city early on the morning of July 11, were not, as the city insisted, unsafe or dangerous.
Since then, 137 employees have been out of work, and Morreale has spent more than $150,000 of his business's money to fight City Hall, providing document after document proving that the city, which abruptly decided that the four-story, 106-year-old historic structure presented a safety risk that required immediate vacating of the property, couldn't back up its claims.
And this morning, after three hours of contentious back-and-forth between Morreale and his lawyer and Mike Roach, the city inspector who'd signed the July 10 order to vacate, and Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey, the Board of Appeals collectively sided with Morreale.
Andrew Hudson --former spokesman for the city, past press secretary for ex-mayor Wellington Webb, founder of AndewHudsonsjoblist.com and now high-level strategist for Morreale -- notes that the five board members are independent appointees, representing a cross-section of the construction-industry sector. And at the end of this morning's battle, "They agreed that Jesse could immediately reopen his restaurants," says Hudson, who is not getting paid by Morreale, but who vehemently believes that the restaurateur, for whatever reason, was unfairly targeted.
"The common sense argument is that this building has been around for 106 years, and they allowed Jesse to operate there for three years without objection to its safety, and Jesse provided concrete evidence from third-party engineers, as well as other evidence, that showed he's invested millions of dollars in safety upgrades," says Hudson, adding, too, that Morreale was equipped with evidence to prove that the "building is safer than it's ever been."
That's not to say, however, that Morreale is completely in the clear. "He has sixty days," points out Hudson, to "deal with some of the unresolved issues related to the building's renovations and come into compliance." But Hudson says he's convinced that what he calls the "crown jewel of the Baker neighborhood" will continue to thrive.
As for the 137 employees who were stripped of their jobs because of the city's actions, Hudson says he's "appalled." Why, he wonders, would the city do something like this to that many people, especially during an economic crisis? One city official, who Hudson declines to name, had the audacity to claim that "they're just restaurant employees."
That kind of bullshit statement doesn't sit well with Hudson, whose profession is to find career opportunities for people. "My job is to try to get people back to work," he notes, "and this kind of action by the city is terrible."
The "great unanswered question," continues Hudson, is why? Why did the city suddenly close El Diablo and Sketch without warning? "The bottom line is that it was wrong, and that's what the Board of Appeals saw, too," he concludes.
And in light of seeing the light, El Diablo will resume its normal business hours tomorrow, beginning at 11 a.m., while the bar at Sketch is open for business tonight. Hudson notes that the food El Diablo and Sketch had on hand when they were shuttered by the city was all donated to the first responders who aided the victims in the Aurora shooting massacre. "Jesse is a stand-up guy, and he doesn't cut corners," says Hudson, adding, too, that most of the employees from both restaurants are returning to their old jobs.
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