A federal order to make extensive, handicapped-accessible modifications to the Battle House Hotel was initiated by a complaint from a single visitor, U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown said during a press conference this afternoon. The unnamed woman’s visit to the hotel in 2012 began when she parked her vehicle at the front portico, settled into her wheelchair and then was forced to navigate 20 to 30 yards through “uncomfortable and dangerous” Royal Street traffic to a curb ramp at the corner of St. Francis Street.
A subsequent investigation of the hotel’s facilities led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Holly Wiseman and an architect with the Department of Justice revealed more than 300 violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Brown said, including: a main entrance with no curb ramps or demarcated passenger loading zones; an interior ramp that is partially obstructed by a structural column; other ramps that are too steep or do not allow proper turning room; no wheelchair access from St. Francis Street; no access to the main swimming pool, hot tub and spa; no access to the hotel’s “best rooms” and limited access to all bathrooms; and deficient signage for entrances and routes.
“It’s easy to overlook structural and physical barriers to access public accommodations if you’re an able-bodied person,” Brown said, asking those in attendance to consider how an illness or disability may change their own perspective. “ADA compliance makes our community not only more accessible, but also more welcoming.”
The Retirement Systems of Alabama and PCH Hotels & Resorts, the owner and operator of the hotel respectively, signed off on a consent decree yesterday agreeing to more than 30 specific actions within six months to a year to correct the problems.
“Public accommodations must comply with nondiscrimination requirements that prevent exclusion, segregation or unequal treatment,” Brown said. “They also must apply with specific requirements related to the architectural standards for new and altered buildings.”
The 106-year-old Battle House Hotel was reopened in 2007 after extensive and expensive renovations tied to the construction of the adjoining RSA Tower. PCH President and CEO Tony Davis said it was too soon to announce any costs associated with additional modifications, but confirmed that the RSA, as a public pension fund, would essentially be using its own resources to bring the hotel into compliance.
Some minor requirements of the consent decree were already being addressed, Davis said, while others would require permits from the city. Brown emphasized that the investigation had the “full cooperation” of RSA and PCH, which gave the DOJ “unfettered access” to the building.
Davis could not specifically recount how ADA requirements may have been overlooked during the hotel’s initial, four-year-long renovation, but called it a “complex” project.
Nevertheless he said, “we’ve worked with guests with disabilities and are committed to providing an outstanding guest experience with access to all facilities.”
Today, city officials declined to discuss who, if anyone, had approved the renovations without meeting ADA requirements, or how the mandated modifications would affect downtown streets already choked with construction projects.
“ADA standards evolve, just like most things,” Chief of Staff Colby Cooper wrote in an email. “The City was notified about the renovations to the Battle House and will help [PCH] to any degree we can. New or significantly renovated construction (ex. That which is going on on Royal Street now) must be brought up to the most current code/standards. The specific violations facing the Battle House/PCH we defer to them and DOJ on.”
RSA is also currently renovating the historic Van Antwerp Building on Royal Street for use as commercial office space.
Brown encouraged any member of the public with an ADA complaint to call his office at 251-441-5845.