Regulation

Tom Wins the Battle Over Tom's Diner 

What happens when preservationists get in the way of a diner owner who is looking to sell his place, retire, and pocket the cash?

|

For the past 20 years, Tom Messina has run Tom's Diner, a popular 24-hour eatery in Denver, Colorado. After two decades behind the grill, Messina decided to hang up his apron and retire.

"I'm a restaurateur who's worked his life flipping pancakes and selling eggs. I have a beautiful family I want to spend time with," says Messina, 60.

Local developer Alberta Company offered to buy Tom's Diner for $4.8 million in order to redevelop the site into an apartment complex. Messina planned on pocketing the money and enjoying some quality time with his grandkids. It was shaping up to be a win-win deal until five local activists filed an application in June to declare Tom's Diner a historic landmark. They argued that the mid-century "Googie" architectural style of Messina's building—with its expansive glass windows and tilted roof—was an iconic part of Denver's landscape.

This posed a problem for Messina: Landmarking his building would not only sink the deal he had with Alberta; it would also greatly reduce what he could get from any other developer in a future sale.

In July, the city's Landmark Preservation Commission voted to approve the activists' application. Soon thereafter, a municipal committee voted to proceed with the effort. Only one more vote from the full Denver City Council was needed to officially landmark the property.

But public opinion was on Messina's side even if the government was not. Activists' efforts attracted negative coverage from both local outlets and national publications, including Reason. The Denver Post editorial board weighed in to support the restaurateur as well.

The public shaming seemed to work. Just a few days before the final vote, preservationists suddenly withdrew their application, allowing the redevelopment of the site to proceed without interruption.

For Messina, the result was a huge relief. But the experience was also a warning about how little control one can have over a property one ostensibly owns. "Many times it felt like the cards were stacked against me in this process," he said in a statement. "To have your life's work, investment, and future in the hands of others is a position I wish upon no one."

Messina can now retire in peace. But so long as expansive historic preservation laws remain on the books, the next property owner might not be so lucky.

NEXT: Impressions from the oral argument in Kansas v. Glover

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This story made me so angry when I first read about it. Glad the guy ended up being able to sell his property.

    1. There’s always “Hebrew Lightning “. Apologies to my Jewish friends

      1. Apology not accepted….asshole.

  2. Activists’ efforts attracted negative coverage from both local outlets and national publications, including Reason. The Denver Post editorial board weighed in to support the restaurateur as well.

    This property and its owner’s future ultimately came down to the whim not so much of bureaucrats or activists but of editors.

    1. A Twitter mob Saved Tom’s retirement. Un-cancel culture has got to stop.

    2. There was a massive public backlash towards it as well. The only ones who really wanted to “save” it were a bunch of femshit busybodies who had as much understanding of the history of Colfax as one of the bums getting stoned on the Civic Center lawn.

  3. Your home [ business] is you castle. Unless the kings minions want it.

  4. There’s very few buildings in this country I would call historic as in where history was made thru the centuries.. If you want to see historic go to the U.K, France or Germany before 1945.

    1. I will, as soon as I get my time machine fixed.

    2. On a different note, I met my parents recently to see Mount Washington. On the way up I was telling my wife about the Bretton Woods conference (that paved the way for fiat currency, eventually) and how interesting I thought it was. After the rail ride, my parents suggested we meet them at an address for lunch. Lo and behold, it was the Mount Washington Resort, where the conference was held. I even got to see where some of the discussions took place. It was pretty neat! Very historic, and nothing at all like this (admittedly very cool looking) diner.

  5. The building looks like any number of old Pizza Hut buildings… wonder if the preservationists would have been fighting to save an old Pizza Hut…

    CB

    1. That’s not pizza.

    2. Don’t you mean a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ8ViYIeH04

    3. “”They argued that the mid-century “Googie” architectural style of Messina’s building—with its expansive glass windows and tilted roof—was an iconic part of Denver’s landscape.””

      It looks like a ’80s McDonalds to me.

      1. “It looks like a ’80s McDonalds to me.”

        Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

      2. They’re completely full of shit. There’s nothing–absolutely nothing–that ever made this architectural style an “iconic” part of the Denver landscape, other than in the slew of Pizza Hut franchises across the Front Range.

      3. The multiple bright colors look a bit like a design from from Google. Googie, Google, what’s one letter difference?

  6. Tom may have won the battle, but a decisive victory would have included a few mil from the preservationists trying to screw him out of his property. If you’re going to let attempted rapists go free on the grounds that it wasn’t a successful rape, what’s the disincentive for rape attempts?

    1. They should be shot and sent to the Russian front.

      1. “They should be sent to the Danube at dawn.”
        “What?”
        “Just… memories.”

    2. “If you’re going to let attempted rapists go free on the grounds that it wasn’t a successful rape, what’s the disincentive for rape attempts?”

      Keep that idea handy. It’s gonna come in useful when we’re talking about Trump’s scheming in Ukraine.

      1. Who else do you allow to live rent free in your head?

        1. That’s the funny thing about Trump. He’s made the people that hate him the most, think about him the most.

        2. There’s hardly any space in there for anything else.

        3. John Malkovich.

      2. It’s gonna come in useful when we’re talking about Trump’s scheming in Ukraine.

        Attempted Rape has a victim and is malum in se. Who is the victim of Trump’s “scheming”?

        1. Well Biden, the current anointed one, of course.

      3. “Keep that idea handy. It’s gonna come in useful when we’re talking about Trump’s scheming in Ukraine.”

        It would be sad to have a decent human being so afflicted with TDS; in pod’s case, it’s just one of the highlights of my day.
        I hope it turns out to be fatal.

        1. No. Not fatal…
          We’ve got to keep our around for as long as we can.
          He’s a laugh-a-minute.

          1. pod – not ‘our’-
            F#%$i*$ autocorrect…

  7. Those people that want to preserve it are free to round up investors and make an offer. Not to take the value of it from it’s rightful owner. Glad he won and the arrogant freedom haters lost.

    1. ^^This^^. Nothing stopping them from doing that except for the fact that the power of the state can be commandeered by individuals to serve their own desires.

      1. They wanted the historical designation to devalue the property before they tried to buy it. They didn’t want to / couldn’t match the developer’s offer.

  8. When my late Mother was involved in the beginnings of the Historic Preservation movement the emphasis was on changing tax and zoning laws so that it was fiscally reasonable to preserve an old building instead of turning it into a parking garage. By the late 1970’s she was a lone voice reminding her fellow preservationists that just because they COULD preserve an old building didn’t mean they were right to do so. The buildings are the property of other people, and in many cases were spectacularly ugly the day they were built and have been getting uglier every day since.

    *sigh*

    1. I sit on an historical commission. We are constantly bombarded by folks who think we should change the township zoning ordinances to keep owners from changing their historic (i.e. old) structures or developing landscapes unchanged in hundreds of years. So far, I’ve prevailed and have used the argument that doing so would be a “taking” under eminent domain and are the township taxpayers prepared to pay lawyers, etc. to take the property. I even had to remind one particularly zealous advocate at a public meeting that “this isn’t the Soviet Union yet.”

      1. You’re doing the lord’s work my friend.

      2. Exactly.

        This, and the action to preserve Tom’s Diner would be fine if a declaration of historicity is legally considered a taking.
        I doubt Tom would have cared what happened to his property as long as he got the $4.8 million, and even if he did care it wouldn’t be a big deal (since the company that ultimately did buy it to build residential could just as easily have decided not to build after the purchase).

      3. Here in Atlanta someone who lived in a historic preservation district wanted to demolish an ugly front porch on his house and replace it with the porch the original architect designed. The existing porch was there only because the first owner ran out of money and had to skimp somewhere. Despite having the original plans showing the porch as designed, he was turned down by the preservation board. Fustrated, he asked if there was any restriction on paint colors. The board admitted that no, there wasn’t. So he painted the house white with big purple polka dots. The preservation board caved, and he built his porch.

  9. In my state, there is a limited access, divided highway with a one mile break in the middle of the stretch that becomes regular roadway because there is an old ice cream stand that has a giant milk bottle in front of it that the hysterical society managed to get named as a historic landmark. There are very few people alive who even remember when it was an actual, functioning ice cream stand. Also in my state, the state was looking to remove some toll booths on a bridge that were causing significant traffic jams, especially during the summer. They were also revenue negative, but the toll-takers union managed to get the hysterical society to try to get the toll booths (f’ing toll booths) labeled as historical landmarks. Fortunately and much to my surprise, that effort failed.

  10. The sign says it’s always open. I’m waiting for a judge to rule he can’t close it because the sign says always open.

  11. If I was the developer, I’d refuse to buy the property until the building was already knocked down. The preservation groups only lost out because their victim was sympathetic. They’ll likely reapply the second the building changes hands.

    1. Good point, and advice. I’d make damn sure the butt ugly place was reduced to dust as a precursor to sealing the deal.

  12. Good to see that the situation with Tom’s Diner worked out. Now we can focus on getting help for Luka.

    1. Doesn’t he sleep with the fishes?

      1. lives on the second floor.

  13. Sounds to me that Tom could have sued the city on 13th Amendments grounds. By denying him the ability to sell, they were de facto forcing him to continue working, hence involuntary servitude (slavery).

  14. Jonel Beach, one of the five people who signed the landmark application, said her efforts to preserve the building are being pursued as an act of love, not out of a desire to make anyone’s life harder. She said the building is not only a visual landmark on East Colfax, but has been a meeting place for people from all walks of life in Denver, including at-risk youth, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

    “Even if the diner closes, the building is a testament to the inclusive meeting space it has been for so many groups of people over the last few decades, even predating Tom’s Diner as the White Spot,” she said. Denver Post, July 23, 2019

    Notice how the she weaved in persons with disabilities, “at risk youth,” and alphabet people. And of course “act of love” which makes the road to hell all nicely paved with good intentions.

    1. Surprised she didn’t say she was acting “for the children(tm).”

      1. That phrase is trade marked? Whoever got the copyright must be making a fortune just off government bureaucrats alone.

    2. I’ve eaten there a couple times. She could have included pretty decent breakfast after a long wait for a table. The hangover makes the eggs and juice taste better when you finally get served.

    3. Narcissists and sociopaths are good at that sort of thing.

  15. The city is looking at amending its demolition application review process, the procedure that opens the door for landmark applications from the general public, officials with Denver Community Planning and Development say. Under the proposed new rules, the review process would be extended from three weeks to 60 days and the property owner would be required to meet with community stakeholders and talk about their plans.

    Stakeholder: I have no money, no time, and absolutely no risks or resources invested into your property, but I feel a lot of love for it.

    1. I was going to say I have a bad feeling they will rewrite the process in favor or preservationists.

  16. do do doo do do do do do

  17. As a fellow property owner, good for Tom. I presume, since it wasn’t mentioned in the article, Alberta kept their offer on the table? If so, he’s lucky. He could have been in a position where he won but the offer was with drawn and he would have to continue working and wait for another offer. Which who knows how long that would have taken.

    1. Public officials have to always keep in mind people who own property, buildings, small businesses etc. plan to sell eventually. Since they don’t have secured pensions, the proceeds of the sale is their pension. It’s pretty much how things are in my family. We’re a small business family with properties. Everything we do and decide is with an eye to the future to secure financial stability for us and our kin and children.

      This is what people (mostly lefties) have to get through their thick skulls.

      It’s not evil or hoarding or anything stupid thing like that.

      It’s us taking care of ourselves.

      1. DItto with respect to labor unions. It’s people getting together to try to secure financial stability.

        People (mostly righties) have to get that through their thick skulls.

        1. Yeh totes the same thing.

    1. The real kicker here is that these properties would be used for building housing, which many cities seem to not have enough of; however, “stakeholders” of the preservationist persuasion seem to think that any change in their neighborhoods is bad, and any edifice that is at least as old as they are is grist for their mill.

  18. Nice Blog… Thanks

    See Latest is a news website which provides latest information about the movies, upcoming movies, released movies, latest updates of technology – Mobiles, Laptops, Apps. And Current Affairs of Education, Exam Results, Exam Notification, Admission News and Jobs too.

Please to post comments