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Doors reopen at evacuated Fayetteville hotel

Posted December 18, 2009

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— Residents of the Hotel Prince Charles, which was ordered evacuated twice this week because of safety concerns, were allowed to return Friday evening, but few went back in right away.

Fire inspectors checked all rooms in the 84-year-old downtown hotel, at 450 Hay St., and said all 18 fire code violation found in an Oct. 29 inspection had been corrected.

Danger sign posted at Hotel Prince Charles 'Danger' signs removed from historic hotel

When some violations hadn't been corrected by Tuesday, police went through the building and ordered the 70 tenants to leave. Police made another sweep through the building Thursday, saying some tenants had moved back in without permission.

John Chen, who owns the Prince Charles, called the evacuations an overreaction.

"Those violations (were not urgent)," Chen said. "We can take time to correct it. We are aware those are the violations, but it's not a reason to shut the building down."

Building residents called Chen a slumlord, and some said they don't know whether they want to live in the building anymore – or even whether they'll actually be allowed back in.

"He's used to running tenement buildings back in New York City. This is not New York City," Gene McMorries said.

"We're not going to get back in this building, no matter what anybody says. We're not going to be allowed back in," Scott Martin said.

Many residents have been staying with friends or relatives or at another hotel.

Fayetteville inspectors also cited Chen for doing interior demolition work without a permit. He said he didn't know he needed a permit for remodeling work and promised to obtain the necessary paperwork.

He said the city is unfairly targeting him, citing a lawsuit the city filed after he installed a vinyl window that failed to meet historic building codes.

"It makes me feel that our investment is not welcome," he said.

City Councilman Bobby Hurst said he's disappointed with the state of the Prince Charles, saying it could be a crown jewel downtown with its lobby chandelier and piano.

"When it was purchased a couple years ago, we were excited about the potential. We thought he had some great ideas for it," Hurst said.

Chen said he plans to eliminate monthly rentals at the hotel next year and convert the historic building to condominiums. He said he can't compete with new hotels on the outskirts of town and wants to take advantage of the growing residential market downtown.

"This is like a temporary arrangement while we do the condominium conversion. We still want the building occupied," he said.


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  • SailbadTheSinner Dec 18, 2009

    The “lives are at stake” argument is used any time there is a Code issue to be resolved.

    IMHO, it’s a specious argument.

    Unfortunately, Codes are mostly made by representatives from manufacturers, insurance companies, and others that have a vested interest in selling product or (their) reducing risk. If there are actual safety benefits, I sometimes believe they are incidental to the other interests.

    I’ll cut to the chase: There are Code “violations”, and then there are “VIOLATIONS.” The majority of Code officials have a tough time telling the difference. EVERYTHING is “lives at stake”, and that is simply not the case.

    Also, there is a thing known as a cost-benefit ratio.

    Unfortunately, for the vast majority of recent Code changes, the public is on the losing side. The cost to the public is MUCH more than to the benefit to the public.

    Now, the benefit to the vested interest, that’s another matter.


  • ghimmy51 Dec 18, 2009

    Lives are at stake, literally. The guy had enough time. It's the lawful responsibility of the Fire Dept. to handle it. Good for them. Good for us.

  • Rolling Along Dec 18, 2009

    Mr. Chen has a less than stellar record of following permitting and other processes. If there are fire code violations (and I am sure there were) it can and should be grounds for evacuating the building. Some of the violations go back to when he purchased the building back in winter of 2007. He has been given ample time to correct the deficiencies.

  • teck Dec 18, 2009

    This city has given this guy (Chen) nothing but he-(hockey sticks x2).

    First the windows, then the air conditioning units, now evicting everyone while he is in the process of fixing the violations.

    It's in the 30s you morons! and it's not like he wasn't fixing the violations.

    Now granted, I will side with the city on this one though, that anyone knows that you need permits to do construction on multiple resident buildings and doing work such as taking down walls and revamping floorplans.

    But in the whole picture of things the city needs to back off and let the man that obviously has enough money to buy then fix up a hotel such as the Prince Charles, in an area like downtown that doesn't have the best history, into a nice place to live.

    It is a win/win but it seems like the city is putting up as many roadblocks to prevent something in disrepair turn into something nice

    Leave the man alone!

  • SailbadTheSinner Dec 18, 2009

    I’m not surprised at all.

    Although I know nothing about the particular building, or the conditions therein, I have had dealings with the Fayetteville fire officials.

    IMHO, they are a bit enamored with their own authority. I have personally been required to make changes to a building that were not required by Codes under the threat of not being issued a Certificate of Occupancy.

    Can you successfully fight this sort of thing?

    Yes, of course. It just generally costs more money to delay opening the building than it does to go ahead and make the changes....