Doors reopen at evacuated Fayetteville hotel
Posted December 18, 2009 1:59 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2009 6:15 p.m. EST
Fayetteville, N.C. — 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.
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.