DENVER – The Denver Fire Department tells Denver7 Investigates it has "red tagged" a warehouse-like building where it forced five people living inside to move out because of serious fire code violations.
The adults were forced to move from a warehouse at 3553 Brighton Boulevard, known as Rhinoceropolis. It’s a space musicians and other artists have used to hold concerts, fundraisers and exhibitions since 2005 in the RiNo district.
Only contractors will be allowed in the building, Denver Fire spokeswoman Melissa Taylor said Friday afternoon.
The violations include extension cords being used as permanent wiring, plastic material on the ceiling that must be removed, wrapping paper on walls in the bathroom, issues with the front room furnace not having all working parts and a missing panel, and exits not having one-turn motion locks, Taylor told investigative reporter Jace Larson.
The most pressing violation of all, fire officials said, was the simple fact that people were living in a building that was not zoned as residential and not equipped with the required smoke detectors or sprinkler system.
Just learned residents living at #Rhinoceropolis will be allowed in at 11 am to gather belongings.
— Jace Larson (@jacelarson) December 9, 2016
The adults will be allowed back in Friday to gather belongings. A meeting is also scheduled Friday between the property owner and the fire department, Taylor said.
— Jace Larson (@jacelarson) December 9, 2016
The violations were found after Denver Police were called to the building.
A police department spokesman says officers received a tip Thursday about a nightclub with "possible activity of concern." The spokesman did not say specifically what the tip included. While going to the address, a police officer alerted the Denver Fire Department, the police spokesman said.
“An inspection by fire prevention technicians revealed numerous serious fire code violations,” the Denver Fire Department said in a news release. “An order to comply was issued, stating that all sleeping units needed to be vacated immediately.”
The eviction follow the deaths of 36 people in an Oakland, California warehouse known as Ghost Ship this month.
Those who were displaced were offered assistance, but the offer was declined, Denver Fire said.
Fire department: warehouse "fell through the cracks"
Records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show a Denver Fire Department inspector discovered people were living in the abandoned warehouse during a 2015 inspection. Fire officials said there is no record of any action being taken as a result of that discovery, admitting that it appears the problem "fell through the cracks."
Fire officials said they will now take additional steps to make sure commanders see such findings on inspections in the future. The department said it may also begin reviewing past inspections for other facilities to see if any similar problems have been noted without action.
Aside from the 2015 finding, Rhinoceropolis routinely passed its annual inspections, with the most recent clean inspection happening in the summer of 2016.
"Likely a knee-jerk response to the tragedy at Ghost Ship"
The president of the RiNo Art District group released a statement Friday afternoon, criticizing the decision to issue immediate evictions, and saying it was "likely a knee-jerk response to the tragedy at Ghost Ship."
"While we support any effort to ensure that people are safe and protected in such spaces, we feel this rash move to evict people on a cold winter evening without reaching out to us, or other partners, to identify a solution or strategy, was a misstep," RiNo Arts District president Jamie Licko wrote.
"In the last 24 hours, we have been actively engaged in a conversation about how to right this situation. By all accounts, it appears that Rhinoceropolis will be able to continue as a music venue, but not as a home. We respect both the zoning code and the rights of the property owner on that particular matter," Licko continued.
RiNo Arts District said it is working on a plan to open a broader conversation on the need for affordable creative space for artists in Denver, laying out the next steps in its statement:
- "We are committed to working with Rhinoceropolis, the property owner, the Denver Fire Department, the Denver Police Department and the City of Denver to reopen Rhinoceropolis as a music venue as soon as possible.
- We will be relooking at zoning of former industrial buildings in our neighborhood, such as the one Rhinoceropolis calls home, to identify how we can make amendments to allow for utilizing these affordable spaces as live/work places for our artist community in a safe way.
- With urgency, we will be continuing our conversation with the City about the importance of artist-run spaces and what we all can do to help ensure they continue to exist, in a safe, but affordable way so that our artists can live and create in our urban core. Shutting things down is not a solution. Working together, creatively, to address safety issues while allowing creative uses… IS."
Denver7 Investigates called the owner of the building listed on property records but has not received a response.
Jace Larson is an award-winning investigative reporter for Denver7 Investigates. If you have a story idea or a tip for Jace, email or text him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-270-1468. You can remain anonymous. Connect with Jace on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.