The devil you say! City slaps El Diablo and Sketch with notice to vacate

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Danger. That's the sign on the door of Sketch, which is supposed to host an opening for a showing of 9News reporter Kirk Montgomery's photographs tonight. The sign -- as well as five different letters signed by Michael Roach, Building Official with Development Services in the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, is posted not just on the door to Sketch, but all around the First Avenue Hotel, the building that also houses El Diablo and the offices of Jesse Morreale, who redeveloped the 106-year-old structure -- with the help of two loans from the Denver Office of Economic Development.

Which would make you think that the city would keep a close eye on the development of the project, where El Diablo opened its doors in August of 2010, followed soon after by Sketch and other businesses. But now, according to one of the letters dated July 10 and posted sometime before 8 a.m. this morning, "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."

A few hours ago, I was sitting in Morreale's office on the second floor, which didn't seem to pose any immediate hazard to me...except that Morreale was about to blow his top. According to a spokeswoman for Community Planning, Morreale had been doing work without permits and not following through on an agreed-upon work plan. But Morreale insists he's worked closely with the city from the start. "The city saying they've been trying to get in touch with me for two weeks is a lie," he says.

Actually, one of Morreale's attorneys had been in communication with the Denver City Attorney's Office last Friday -- on a tangentially related matter. Phil Gordon had called Mike Roach on June 22 to request a meeting because Roach had submitted a declaration in a lawsuit "which appeared intended to provide substantial assistance to plaintiffs in advancing their position against my clients," Gordon e-mailed Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey. That litigation involves a case filed against Morreale Hotels by the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, which claims El Diablo is not compliant with accessibliity requirements...although Roach "and his design review team had reviewed and approved the design for El Diablo restaurant as being in full compliance with applicable law, including all applicable accessibility requirements," Gordon wrote after Buckey returned his call to Roach.

On July 6, Buckey sent Gordon this: "I'm sorry it has taken so long to get back with you on a meeting about the situation at 101N Broadway. The Building Official (Mike Roach) and the Director of Development Services (Kelly Leid) and I would like to meet with you and your client on Monday at 3:00 here in the Webb Building. Please let me know if that works for you, or suggest an alternate time." Later that afternoon, Buckey sent a second e-mail, asking to push the meeting to Monday morning. Although he noted that the primary purpose was "the status of the building," he also said that the reason for the time switch was "Mr. Roach's schedule."

But the switch didn't work for Morreale and Gordon, and they had not rescheduled by this morning -- when Morreale found notices from the city all over his building. According to Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for Community Planning, yesterday's "meeting was meant to be an opportunity for the city to notify Mr. Morreale that the enforcement action was to take place. Any conversation in the meeting would not have affected that outcome."

But Gordon says that if he'd had any idea what was about to come down, he would have pushed for a meeting -- and made sure the right people were there. As he points out, "I'm not a real-estate lawyer."

Morreale has those, too, and he's been on the phone with them all day, trying to figure out his options. And in the meantime, despite the order to vacate, El Diablo is definitely open for business....and plans for Montgomery's reception are still on.


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