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Iconic Battle House Hotel Agrees to Fix Hundreds of Americans with Disabilities Act Violations
October 15, 2014
A complaint by a Battle House Hotel guest who had trouble maneuvering her wheelchair on Royal Street two years ago led to an announcement Wednesday that the hotels owner has agreed to fix hundreds of federal violations.
A federal judge on Tuesday approved a pre-lawsuit settlement between the U.S. Attorneys Office in Mobile and the Retirement Systems of Alabama and PCH Hotels & Resorts. U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown praised the cooperation of the defendants, who offered "unfettered" access to the hotel and office tower. The resulting inspection revealed 300 violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Brown said at a news conference in the lobby of the RSA Battle House Tower.
"The ADA is one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation," he said. "When you are an able-bodied person, it is easy to forget the obstacles that disabled people, disabled persons, face every day." Brown said that 19 percent of Americans live with a disability.
PCH Hotels & Resorts CEO Tony Davis said the company has not tallied the total cost of the renovations, which will be completed in six- and 12-month phases.
"We welcome guests with disabilities and remain committed to providing them with an outstanding guest experience," he told reporters. "The guest experience is extremely important to us."
Brown said his office opened an investigation last year after a woman made a complaint in late 2012 about difficulty maneuvering her wheelchair with no curb cuts and also difficulty using the hotels swimming pool, hot tub and spa whirlpools.
Brown said the hotel allowed government contractor Rick Hinrichs and U.S. Department of Justice architect Diane Perry to complete a full review of the facilities. They turned up some 300 violations, most of which the company agreed with.
Among other steps, the hotel has agreed to:
- Reconstruct the curb and sidewalk to make the Royal Street entrance and guest pull-up accessible.
- Provide an accessible route from the St. Francis Street exterior to the parking deck, pool, fitness center and spa.
- Add or rebuild ramps on Royal and Dauphin streets.
- Modify a corridor on the third floor to make the slope less steep.
- Improve signage.
- Make doors lighter to make them easier for disabled guests to open.
- Install a self-operated pool lift at the main swimming pool and widen the pool deck ramp.
- Convert the shower at the Royal Suite spa massage to a roll-in shower.
- Provide at least one lavatory with a countertop that is 34 inches above the floor in every bathroom in the hotel and office building.
- Include handicap-accessible spaces and entrances in a new parking deck under construction.
- Change valet parking procedures to allow people with specially modified vehicles to park the vehicles themselves.
- Upgrade some of the guest rooms.
In addition, the company has agreed to provide additional training to its staff and allow federal authorities to conduct inspections in six and 12 months.
The original Battle House Hotel dates to 1852. After decades of vacancy, RSA purchased the property in 2002, renovated the hotel and built the 35-story tower - Alabamas tallest building. Brown called the hotel and office building "iconic," adding that they now are "iconic symbols of equality."
The new construction came well after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Asked why the builders did not take the federal law into account at the time, Davis blamed the complexity of the regulations.
"When we became aware of those issues, we addressed them," he said.
Brown launched a special unit in September 2012 to handle civil rights complaints of all kinds. Some of the ADA cases his office has pursued include refusal by employees at Dragon City Chinese restaurant in Daphne and Shanghai Cottage in Fairhope to allow blind customers to bring guide dogs into the establishments.
Last year, an Orange Beach restaurateur said he spent more than $1 million complying with a settlement after the U.S. Attorneys Office accused him of violating the disabilities law following a complaint by a customer who could not get to the dining room because the 1952 building had no ramp or elevator.
Brown said RSA and PCH "have gone beyond" the minimum requirements of the law. Notwithstanding that cooperation, he said, a formal court settlement was necessary because corporate managers can change.
"ADA compliance makes our community not only more accessible, but also more welcoming," he said.
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