DENVER – Denver city and fire officials met Friday with the owner of a converted warehouse that offered art and music space and was closed after authorities found serious fire code violations.
Fire officials were investigating what penalties, if any, the owner of Rhinoceropolis could face after five people living in the two-story, commercially zoned industrial brick building were evicted Thursday, said Denver fire Capt. Greg Pixley.
Rhinoceropolis provides people a place to stage concerts and art shows on north Denver’s Brighton Boulevard, an industrial district that has attracted artists in recent years. Those evicted were allowed to collect their belongings Friday.
The evictions follow the Dec. 2 warehouse fire in Oakland, California, that killed 36 people. That warehouse had been turned into artists’ studios and illegal living spaces.
Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said police received a “safety-related” tip about the warehouse Thursday. A responding officer asked a fire official to accompany him before they discovered the code violations, Jackson said.
Pixley said it was up to the owner to determine whether to seek residential permits from the city and ensure the building is up to code. He added that fire officials had inspected the building in July and found some fire code violations, but that officials did not act on recommendations at that time.
Pixley said he had no information on the July violations but said that “there have been issues with this structure, and those issues should have been addressed at that time.”
“If the owner wants to have it for commercial use, it has to meet fire codes. If it’s to be residential, he must go through the city to get it done,” Pixley added.
Leaders of the RiNo Art District where the building is located criticized the city’s action.
“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,” the art district said in a statement.
Pixley said fire officials try to inspect occupied structures at least once a year. Staff shortages and Denver’s rapid growth complicate that task, he said.