The future of the Tom’s Diner building in Capitol Hill could be decided Monday when the Denver City Council will likely take up a proposal by five locals aiming to preserve the structure and block its demolition.
On one side of the debate is Tom Messina, owner of the greasy spoon for 20 years. He wants to sell the building for about $5 million to Alberta Development Partners, which would raze it and supplant it with an eight-story apartment complex.
His retirement depends on the sale, Messina says.
“Right now the timing is right to me,” Messina told the Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday. “It’s been 20 years. I want to spend time with my family.”
On the other side are five Denverites who asked the local government to step in and preserve the example of Googie architecture, a design style inspired by 1960s car culture. They see the 24-7 spot as a historic landmark, and so does the city’s planning department, which says it meets the criteria for the landmark status.
“Part of our motivation as a group was that we really value the business,” said Jessica Caouette, one of the applicants and a business owner in the neighborhood. “We think that Tom really created a wonderful space.”
The committee unanimously advanced the historic designation to a vote of the full city council.
Messina’s diner is finished whether or not the building survives, he said. The restauranteur said he’s flattered that people want to save it from destruction, but contends that memories he helped create — nor brick and mortar — are what makes Tom’s special.
City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said she wants to see the applicants and restaurant owner press pause and continue mediation, telling the parties that “we’re not looking outside the box.”
The city’s historic landmark division originally recommended a designation that preserved the building and its parking lot. As a compromise, the current recommendation protects just the restaurant itself, with the idea that Messina could cash-out selling it to a developer to build around the restaurant.
But Messina did not budge, telling the council he has “a good, solid offer” and does not see another in the pipeline — especially a worthwhile one that will preserve the building.
“I don’t want to lose what I have on what-ifs,” he said.
The full council will vote August 26.