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.
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.
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.