It Takes a Greek Town

The plan to revive East Colfax: belly dancers, bazouki music, baklava--and blue sidewalks.

To a great extent, the future of Greek Town hinges on the kind of investment Contos and other property owners are willing to make. Bill Lysaught says that the city won't be putting any more improvements into the district until the private sector makes its move.

"Some people believe a designation like this means instant grants and tax relief," Lysaught says. "But there will not be additional public improvement construction up there beyond the one block if more of the property owners do not commit to the renovation of their buildings, contributing to the Greek Town image. Right now the only approved loan application, the only property we're aware of that's under way, is [renovation of] the Greektown Cafe."

The owners of 60 percent of the frontage of a given block would have to invest in facades and other improvements before the city would consider streetscaping that block, Lysaught says. That's in keeping with the city's policy to avoid trying to "jump-start" economic development in areas where a local commitment is lacking.

"Greek Town, clearly, was the dream of Taki Dadiotis," adds Jennifer Moulton, director of the city's planning and development office. "Quite frankly, we've been working pretty hard to try and bring enthusiasm back to Colfax, and when he came forward and said he wanted to do this, we said okay. I believe it's much better to have a part of town in the hands of the people who are living and working there rather than [their] beating on our door, saying, 'You do this.'"

But, Moulton cautions, future city assistance will depend on how many people follow Dadiotis's lead. "I'm very enthusiastic to help somebody like Mr. Dadiotis," she says, "because then the investments are longer-lasting. But if we try to force it to happen, it's not a good thing."

Contos says he isn't sure whether Denver's version will ever draw the kind of crowds found in Chicago's Greek Town, which recently underwent a multi-million-dollar makeover funded by the city, private interests, and grants from the Greek government. "I don't know if people will come here," he says simply. "It will take a long time."

His doubts haven't stopped him from forging ahead with his own plans for development, but Contos suggests that concerns about the long-term nature of the project may be keeping other members of the Greek business community from taking the plunge. "They'd like to, but people are scared," he says. "They think Colfax is worse than it is."

Dadiotis says his fellow Greek entrepreneurs are playing a waiting game. They want to see what his facade will look like and whether Contos and other property owners will follow suit. "They're waiting to see if it's going to happen," he chuckles. "But I do believe when it happens, it's going to be too late for them to move in."

Peros, of the Greek Chamber of Commerce, has a harsher assessment. "Unfortunately, among the Greek community, there are people who are waiting around to see if there any failures so they can go in and buy it for ten cents on the dollar," he says. "But knowing Pete Contos and Pete Dadiotis, that just ain't going to happen. Realistically, it's going to be a five- to ten-year project."

Dadiotis, though, is champing at the bit; he's a headstrong Odysseus, not a patient Penelope. A few months ago he announced plans for a massive street festival in Greek Town this month that would have involved closing Colfax to traffic for several hours. Although he collected signatures from surrounding neighbors and found overwhelming support for the idea--"Every single person signed except for two, and those two people, anything you ask them, they say no"--he ultimately decided to postpone the festival until next summer in order to have time to secure more corporate sponsorship.

Like Greek Town itself, the festival is a controversial issue in some quarters of the Greek community. Dadiotis had to reassure leaders of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Denver that the event wouldn't compete with their annual festival and bazaar at the Cathedral of the Assumption. But he pledges that next year's blowout will be big--big enough to show the city and the business community that Greek Town can deliver on its promise of good times and ethnic spectacle. He's even talking to the Greek government about flying in a special contingent of the palace guard to parade down Colfax in their traditional white-skirted uniforms.

"I got a big vision for the party next year," he says. "I'm going to give them something they never see anyplace else in the United States." The main attraction, he adds, will be the subject of press conferences and will be talked about in Denver for years to come.

Greco-Roman wrestling? A re-enactment of the Battle of Marathon? A special appearance by Yanni?

"It's not a big secret," Dadiotis says. "I plan to put up about thirty lambs and some pigs, right in the middle of Colfax. Rotisserie. Something they've never seen before, right in the middle of Colfax."

Most of what is being planned for Greek Town is hardly etched in stone--or marble, as the case may be. But the proposed facelift is already raising eyebrows in Denver's urban-design community. Some observers consider the proposal to be a sharp departure from other city-assisted economic-development projects.

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