First Avenue Hotel gets another notice to vacate -- but El Diablo, Sketch open for now

el diablo outside.jpg
Jesse Morreale was back at the Webb building this morning for yet another hearing involving his First Avenue Hotel, home to Sketch and El Diablo, winner of our Best New Bar in 2011 and a place that continues to pack in the crowds. The status of these spots, and the circa 1905 building that houses them, has been one of Denver's longest-running restaurant sagas. The action really revved up last July 10, when the city suddenly slapped the building with a notice to vacate -- immediately. The restaurants were closed for almost three weeks, until a Board of Appeals ruling on July 30 allowed Morreale to reopen in order to make agreed-upon repairs.

Except there's never been much agreement between the players in this drama. And today, the city served Morreale with another notice to vacate...a week from today.

See also:
- Jesse Morreale's First Avenue Hotel slapped with notice to vacate
- El Diablo slapped with notice to vacate...again
- Best New Bar 2011: El Diablo

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It's the third in a series: On January 4, the First Avenue Hotel was again slapped with a notice to immediately vacate what the city had labeled an unsafe building; that closed the restaurants again until Morreale's attorney secured a restraining order from Denver District Court that allowed the restaurants to reopen until a second Board of Appeals hearing at the end of January.

After that hearing, Morreale had another sixty days to make the necessary repairs -- repairs that he's never agreed are necessary.

This morning, the Board of Appeals held its final hearing on the First Avenue Hotel, and found that the building is still not in compliance with the work plan. And after the hearing, the city served Morreale notice that it will order the building vacated on May 3....right before its big Cinco de Mayo weekend.

"We're still working our way through what the Board of Appeals did today," says David Foster, Morreale's attorney. "To begin, the restaurants are open, and we're going to do whatever we can to make sure they continue to stay open. Most important, there has never been -- even by the building official himself -- a determination that the building is not safe, that it's unsafe.... The building ain't gonna blow down."

But that official has determined that the building is in violation of city code, says Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, and that's why it has been labeled "unsafe."

Foster will be working fast in advance of that May 3 deadline, pointing to concerns about actions by the Board of Appeals -- including debating the merits of the case behind closed doors -- and also concerns that the city attorney gave the Board of Appeals improper direction. "We've all been working in good faith based on the settlement in Denver District Court several months ago," he says. "We had anticipated explaining to the board the process over the last sixty days."

That process included hiring an architect to navigate through the city system, while Morreale navigates through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Once the First Avenue Hotel gets through that bankruptcy, "They'll have dollars to spend to make improvements to the property as everybody sees fit."

But that will also mean everybody agreeing on the work plan, which has been a sticking point for years, since the city issued its temporary occupancy permit so that Morreale could open El Diablo in August 2010. Still, there have been many changes to the project since then -- Morreale no longer plans to have the second floor occupied, for example -- so Foster is hopeful that the plan can be adapted. "The city is one of the largest investors in this project," he points out, "with $600,000-plus of taxpayer money. You'd think the city could do better to keep a profitable business open."

The devil's in the details.


Location Info

El Diablo - CLOSED

101 Broadway, Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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15 comments
Bobbie Burton
Bobbie Burton

So, if the city gave him $600k, why doesn't he have the money to correct the problems he agreed to fix when they funded him...and where is that $ if he is declaring Chapter 11??

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan

I get the feeling he is trying to leverage the city as being an investor so as not to make any modification. Even if he has decide NOT to have the second floor occupied there still may be structural issues in a building its age. We also do not know if the original agreement was for him to renovate the building sothat the second floor and all floors would be revenue generating. It would be of benefit for the taxpaeyrs to know which politicians got us involved in this deal and more details on renovation etc.

Steve Feigenbaum
Steve Feigenbaum

What are the code violations? These articles tend to be pretty vague on that subject.

Jon_S
Jon_S

"You'd think the city could do better to keep a profitable business open." 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think profitable businesses go through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

@Steve Feigenbaum  

This is the third in a series of articles about Sketch and El Diablo. You need to go back in the Westword archives and look up the other two articles to get the full story.

Baker_neighbor
Baker_neighbor

@Jon_S From what I've gathered from other articles it's the building ownership that is in Chapter 11, not the restaurants.

LoHiChick
LoHiChick

@Baker_neighbor @Jon_S 

The owner of the building owns both of the restaurants.

cdr52x
cdr52x

@losbenatos25 Sure, it may put people out of work - but would be Morreale's fault not the city's fault. Morreale consistently makes promises and breaks them. How long should the city tolerate his behavior? I say, "Time's up - get out."

theglobalguy
theglobalguy

@losbenatos25 I'm pretty sure that the people working there are familiar with the saga and they've chosen to take the risk.  I have noticed that many of the servers are new; I guess the old ones ran like rats from a sinking ship a while back.  

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

@losbenatos25  

Restaurants close almost every day, so there are ALWAYS restaurant workers out of work. 

cdr52x
cdr52x

@Baker_neighbor@LoHiChickBottom line is that Morreale doesn't seem very invested in keeping his own businesses open.  Frankly, the city and the neighbourhood could do better with another occupant in that building. The city could probably generate more tax revenue  with a different occupant than El Diablo.

Baker_neighbor
Baker_neighbor

@LoHiChick That may be the case, but doesn't mean that the restaurants are in bankruptcy.  Bottom line, the city doesn't appear to be very invested in keeping these businesses open, people employed or even getting a return on their/our investment.  This whole thing seems to be totally counter productive......especially considering that the building has not been deemed unsafe.  

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