FILE - Tom's Diner Denver

Tom's Diner in Denver, Colo. (CC BY 4.0)

(The Center Square) – A real estate group behind a project to redevelop Tom’s Diner, one of Denver’s historic eateries, promises to adapt the building’s unique architecture to bring a new cultural center to the East Colfax neighborhood where it's been located for decades.

The redevelopment plans are part of a zoning permit with special exemption (ZPSE) long-time business owner Tom Messina and current building owner GBX Group filed with Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development (CPD) on November 13. CPD says it has not yet reviewed the application.

ZPSE’s are required when a building’s use is appropriate for its neighborhood context but could potentially impact neighboring residences and businesses. CPD initially reviews works with the applicant to modify their application before submitting it to the Board of Adjustment for Zoning for a public hearing.

Josh Robinson, the lead project designer and president of Docomomo Colorado, said the new business, Tom’s Electric Garden, will keep with the Googie style that Denver-based architecture firm Armét & Davis used to originally design the building.

Tom’s Electric Garden will be an indoor-outdoor restaurant and concert hall. Part of the business’ new design includes an outdoor bar, lounge, and cabana area, which is why the owners requested the ZSPE.

Messina helped design the outdoor area, and said it reflects his belief that the future of the hospitality industry includes open space, private cabanas, and seating areas to keep groups safe.

“When I started this project, I was visualizing a kind of an oasis in the middle of the city," Messina said in a statement. “Something that wouldn't make you feel like you were in the middle of a concrete jungle. We want to use the entire property; it will be special."

Tom’s Diner had been a staple of the East Colfax neighborhood since 1967, embodying the eclectic neighborhood in its Googie architecture, before closing for good in May.

Messina originally planned to sell the building and retire in 2019, but residents fought for it to be added to the National Register of Historic Places to keep developers from tearing the eatery down. Tom’s was added to the list in December 2019.

That same month, GBX Group, which specializes in preserving and operating historic real estate in urban markets, announced it would purchase the 21,307 square foot lot. GBX also owns nearby historic George Schleier Mansion.

“Tom's Diner, with its history, architecture, and legacy in the Denver community, presents an ideal opportunity for redevelopment," David Swentor, president of real estate at GBX, said in a statement. "You can't readily manufacture properties with this type of meaning and cultural ties to their surrounding neighborhoods.”