‘I am leaving regardless,’ Tom’s Diner owner says, as council committee forwards landmark application

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Tom’s Diner owner Tom Messina listens to speakers at a July meeting of Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission. (Photos by Thomas Gounley)

The owner of Tom’s Diner on Tuesday said the East Colfax eatery will close whether or not the city designates the building it occupies as a historic landmark.

“I am leaving regardless,” Tom Messina said. “Tom’s Diner is done.”

The comment was made ahead of a unanimous vote by Denver City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to forward the landmark application — which was submitted by five Denver residents unaffiliated with the diner, and which Messina opposes — to the full council.

The vote was essentially procedural, and does not necessarily indicate that the committee members plan to vote for landmark designation when the full council considers the matter later this month.

The diner now known as Tom’s was built in 1967. It was initially part of Denver’s White Spot diner chain, and is an example of Googie architecture. 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 last year at $4.8 million, and is under contract to sell it to Greenwood Village-based Alberta Development Partners. The company wants to demolish the diner and build an eight-story building with 130 market-rate apartments on the block, according to Messina.

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Sam Dorrance, one of five Denver residents who applied to make the Tom’s Diner building a historic landmark, speaks at a July meeting.

Messina asked the city in May to designate the building as “non-historic,” paving the way for future demolition. 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.

The applicants and local preservation nonprofit Historic Denver, which supported their efforts, have focused on what Caouette on Tuesday called a “win-win solution.” They want Messina to sell the property to a developer who would keep the diner structure, while building on its parking lot, which covers about half the parcel.

“I think it’s beautiful and I would love to see it preserved in some way,” said Caouette, a Denver native who owns Tandem Bar in Uptown.

Historic Denver Executive Director Annie Levinsky told the committee that local architects have been sketching out how such a development might look.

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Tom’s Diner is located at 601 E. Colfax Ave. (Thomas Gounley)

Messina, however, said he “would be taking a hit” with such a proposal. He said Alberta wants to build on the entire lot, and that no other potential buyers have come forward in recent weeks, amidst a flurry of press coverage.

“This is my retirement,” he said.

Council needs to vote on whether the building should be a landmark by the end of August, lest the non-historic status be automatically granted under current rules. The vote and a public hearing are expected to occur on Aug. 26.

Various committee members on Tuesday alluded to the possibility of delaying the measure beyond the end of August, to allow for continued conversations. But such a delay would require the consent of Messina, who rejected the notion. He said he has already talked to the landmark applicants and Historic Denver at least three times, and that he doesn’t think more visits would yield a solution.

“I don’t see any advantage to postpone it,” he said.

The landmark application as it now reads would designate the entire parcel, including the parking lot, as a landmark. The committee expressed interest in amending the application to exclude the parking lot to allow for easier redevelopment of that portion, an idea originally suggested by Historic Denver. But that change ultimately would need to be made by the full council, and would not address the core of the dispute — whether or not the diner building itself should be spared from demolition.

After saying he planned to close his diner no matter what, Messina said he believes his business is what people will truly miss.

“I think it’s more nostalgia than it is brick and mortar, and I’m flattered that people enjoyed their time at Tom’s Diner,” he said.

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Tom’s Diner owner Tom Messina listens to speakers at a July meeting of Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission. (Photos by Thomas Gounley)

Tuesday’s essentially procedural vote sets the stage for council to vote on the hostile application by the end of the month.

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5 Comments

Colfax

So this guy took an incredible risk and invested years of time, money, and effort to build a business on EAST COLFAX in the late 90′.s His business was successful enough to allow him to purchase the real estate it sat on – another investment in EAST COLFAX. And now a group of private citizens – with ZERO economic interest in the business or property – can petition the city to diminish the value of his property without equitable compensation??? This is absurd. He took a huge risk and should be able to reap the reward. I hate to see a unique property be replaced by another apartment building. But I think it’s worse that we allow the property owner to be so significantly penalized for the years of hard work and risks he took.

John Krauklis

That building is all roof. It’s really the only interesting architectural aspect of it. Why don’t they just keep the roof and put it on the new development!?

Steve s

The idea that a committee can encumber someone’s property against their will constitutes a taking and thuggery. If the deal falls thru he is on his way to establishing damages. You’ll get your retirement, just later than anticipated comrade.

patty foster

if the committee want to land mark , they need to purchase and pay Mr. Messina the asking price and then they can do with it what they choose . make it a museum , another restaurant or what ever. BUT don’t punish the man for wanting to sell, make a profit and move on with his life .

Bob Collawn

Saving historic and/or special structures is a laudable goal, and I have seen hundreds of beautiful buildings lost to the wrecking ball, but the rights of a property owner who has risked time and treasure on such an investment should not be usurped. Those interested in saving the building should put up their own capital and time for such an endeavor. Match the existing offer and do what you want with the property.

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