A pair of restaurant buildings in the Governor’s Park section of Cap Hill are the latest to share the preservation spotlight.
Earlier this month, three Denver residents filed notice of intent to submit a landmark designation application for 701 and 711 N. Grant St., the adjacent buildings at the northwest corner of Grant Street and 7th Avenue.
The structures are home to four restaurants, all concepts from Chef Frank Bonnano: Lou’s Food Bar, Vesper Lounge, Mizuna and Luca.
The notice — submitted by Michael and Joanna Negler, and Peter Ralin — came after the property’s owner asked the city for a certificate of demolition eligibility, which makes it easy to demolish a structure within five years.
City staff determined the structures, which date to 1907 and 1912, had the potential for historic designation, citing their status as commercial buildings along what used to be a streetcar line, among other reasons.
The three applicants now have to meet with the property’s current owner, in the presence of a city-appointed mediator. The applicants then decide whether to formally file the landmark application, a move that in recent years has taken place for the Tom’s Diner building on East Colfax Avenue, the Carmen Court condo complex off Speer Boulevard and, most recently, the Denver7 building at the corner of Speer and Lincoln Street.
Landmark status would effectively prevent the buildings from being demolished.
The buildings are owned by 7th & Grant LLC, an entity affiliated with The Sherman Agency, a Denver-based real estate firm. The entity also owns the parking lot to the north, according to property records — about 0.71 acres in all, counting the land the buildings sit on.
That’s a significant asset in a part of town where developers of large apartment complexes have gobbled up large tracts of land. Atlanta-based Gables Residential purchased 0.79 acres in the 700 block of Sherman Street in February, the same month that Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities purchased land one block to the south, including the former Racines restaurant building.
Television station Denver7, meanwhile, is under contract to sell to New York-based Property Markets Group, which would do a residential project.
Hal Naiman, president of The Sherman Agency, told BusinessDen late last week that the ownership group is not under contract to sell, but “really wanted to explore all our options here.”
“What prompted it is quite honestly COVID … We’ve done a lot of concessions,” Naiman said. “From that standpoint, it hasn’t been a great investment for the ownership group recently.”
Naiman said he doesn’t think the buildings are worthy of being a city landmark. And he voiced concern generally about how the landmark process is being used.
“People are tired of development, and they’re using it as a tool to prevent owners from doing what they want with their property,” he said.
Naiman said an investor of Bonanno’s has also expressed interest in buying the buildings. The two sides haven’t reached a deal, Naiman said, but he doesn’t consider that possibility completely dead.
Joanna Negler, meanwhile, said she and her husband live a few blocks away, and have frequented Bonnano’s restaurants. The quality assurance manager for a software company said she’s curious to research how much of the city’s streetcar past can still be found.
“They could tell a story that is maybe being wiped away right now,” she said of the buildings.
Negler also voiced concerns about how large apartment complexes affect “the neighborhood feel,” and said smaller buildings like the ones at 7th and Grant serve to mitigate that.
“Right now, they’re working,” she said. “People are there.”