Fayetteville, N.C. — Fayetteville’s landmark Prince Charles Hotel, built in 1925, is a window to the past, with famous guests including actor Mickey Rooney and pilot Amelia Earhart.
Owner John Chen, a native of New York City, bought the hotel at auction for $1.9 million three years ago.
Now, for the second time in less than a year, danger signs have appeared on his windows.
In October, firefighters evacuated the hotel after discovering unsafe conditions inside. Inspectors found smoke detectors that didn’t work, ceiling wires that were not covered and fire-resistant material absent from the walls. Chen was cited with 14 violations.
About 20 tenants who rent rooms by the month were forced to move out.
Chen said the city is exaggerating easily fixable problems.
“None of this would be an issue in New York,” he said.
Chen and city officials have been at odds over a vinyl window he installed in the building. The city filed suit in May to compel Chen to pay more than $45,000 in fines for the window, which does not meet the standards for the historical building.
“I think that’s insane. It doesn’t make any financial sense,” Chen said Wednesday.
The hotel was first ruled unsafe in December, and 70 tenants were moved out for three days while Chen brought it up to code.
At that time, Chen said the city overreacted to what he deemed minor violations. Inspectors also found that he had done demolition work inside without proper permits.
Chen said the city has become overbearing.
"Just leave us along. Let the business owners decide what is best for them," he said.
Chen stopped renting out hotel rooms last year. He said the era of the Prince Charles serving as a hotel is history, but he is committed to the future of the landmark.
“I think this building is lovely. It’s a historic landmark,” he said.
Chen said he’s constantly making improvements to the building and plans to convert it into condominiums.
“The real estate market in Fayetteville is still very strong, very demanding. That’s good," he said.
Nobody can occupy the building until the repairs are made. It’s unclear when that will be, but Chen is required to submit plans detailing his repairs by December.
Fayetteville Fire Marshal Ron Lewis said the city is working with Chen as much as possible. As for Chen's claims that he was singled out, Lewis said that isn't the case.