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Gateway Hotel owners have 30 days to secure, fix building

By: Bill Melugin

EL PASO, Texas --The Building and Standards Commission voted 5-1 on Monday night to give the owners of the Gateway Hotel 30 days to board, secure and begin correcting the buildings issues.

After initially recommending the hotel be demolished, the city of El Paso suggested to the commission Wednesday night that the building can be rehabilitated.

As KFOX14 reported, a March 10 inspection shut the hotel down and evicted all of its tenants after city officials found a laundry list of code violations they described as an imminent threat.

Yun Sung Sook, the owner of the Gateway Hotel, is currently in La Tuna federal prison.

City officials were able to make contact with Soncha McCormick, one of the partial owners. Her attorney, Mario Gonzalez, called the shutdown of the building a rush to judgement.

"This is a hotel that year in and year out has passed the inspections, and if there's been any problems they've been addressed, Gonzalez said. Now all of a sudden you have something happening in February where the police department is now calling the shots. My client is confused, she didn't understand why the police were involved, that's not their role. If you want to intimidate somebody, get the police involved, if you want to get compliance, get the code compliance involved.

Gonzalez called many of the code violations an easy fix and said some of the violations were in rooms that werent even inhabited.

The city told KFOX14 thats not the case for all of the violations.

We all saw the very lengthy list of repairs that need to be made, some Im sure are simple and easy to do, others will require more work and more time, said Kurt Fenstermacher, the deputy director of the citys environmental services department. "I think [tonights decision] is a win-win for both the city and the building owners in this case. I think we heard tonight the building owners and the public would certainly like to see it rehabilitated.
Gonzalez was happy with the decision, but wasnt entirely satisfied. He says not enough time was given for the owners to respond.

The notice was received on March 17 and that's always a problem when you're running on deadlines, you start thinking about procedural due process. And those aren't vague motions of a lawyer, those are constitutional issues, if there's going to be a taking of property then notice is a premium, notice is a must, Gonzalez said. "There's a bunch of empty buildings in El Paso with broken windows that are completely unsecured, I notice the police and fire department aren't out there doing anything about it. This is one of those surreal cases where one building is singled out for whatever purpose and there was a rush to judgment.
Fenstermacher doesnt see it that way.

"I wouldn't agree, this was a due process issue, he said.
Fenstermacher was asked why the city changed its mind about recommending the hotel be demolished.
I wouldnt say it was marked for demolition,"Fenstermacher said. There were a lot of reports, a lot of different folks in the city looking at the structure. We made a final analysis, and the report we presented tonight was that it can be rehabbed and that was the case.
Heres the irony of it all, Gonzalez said. If this building gets rehabbed and returned to the state it once was, I dont think these tenants, the type of tenants that were in there, will ever afford to be in it.