The owner of Tom’s Diner told reporters Tuesday that he felt “kicked in the gut” after a city commission recommended his property at 601 E. Colfax Ave. be designated a landmark.
Tom Messina, in his first public remarks since BusinessDen reported in May on a redevelopment proposal, told Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission that he has long seen the sale of the property as his retirement plan.
“This property is basically all I have, and what I have based the future of me and my family on,” he said.
The commission’s Tuesday vote to recommend approval of the landmark application submitted by five Denver residents, however, was unanimous.
“We’ve seen owner-opposed applications before, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen one that so absolutely clearly meets the criteria and the bar for the historic significance in the city,” said Commissioner Kathleen Corbett.
The application now goes to City Council, which will make the final decision on the matter. Landmark designation would either scuttle the redevelopment plans or force them to be significantly scaled back.
Landmark applications submitted without the support of the property owner — sometimes referred to as “hostile applications” — are rare, although there have been some recently. The commission on Tuesday denied a separate hostile application for a home in Park Hill. And one recently was submitted for a shuttered funeral home in the Berkeley neighborhood.
The diner now known as Tom’s was built in 1967, according to the listing for sale. It was initially part of Denver’s White Spot diner chain, and is an example of Googie architecture. According to a February Denver Post story, Messina began leasing the space in 1999. Records show he bought the half-acre property in March 2004 for $800,000.
Messina listed the property for sale in 2018. Earlier this year, Greenwood Village-based Alberta Development submitted an early-stage development proposal for the property, signaling the company was under contract to buy it. Alberta wants to demolish the structure and build an eight-story residential project.
Messina asked the city in May to designate the building as “non-historic,” which would make demolition easier. Following a standard review, city staff determined the property had the potential for historic designation. Denver residents Jessica Caouette, Sam Dorrance, Kristin Morales, Kaye Taavialma and Jonel Beach submitted the landmark application in June.
On Tuesday, Dorrance and Historic Denver Executive Director Annie Levinsky, who supports the landmark effort, said they hope to find a solution in which the diner building would be preserved while its parking lot is redeveloped.
Messina said he doesn’t see that as a financially viable option, and downplayed the rarity of Googie architecture, citing other buildings just down the street that he felt exemplified it.
“I’m not the one and only,” he said. “I can tell you that.”
While the applicants described themselves as big fans of Tom’s Diner, Messina expressed some frustration, saying, “I’ve been there 20 years, and I’m ready for a change.
“They’ll drive by, but I’ve been working it, living it,” he said. “I’m on that corner.”