- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

When Goldman Sachs, Wall Street's most powerful investment bank, decided to build itself a new skyscraper, it also planned a fast new road to its door.

But the plan didn't take into account Andy Diakos and the thousands of customers who eat at his old-fashioned Flamingo diner, which stands in the path of the proposed road.

Local authorities last week prevented the demolition of the Flamingo. Instead, they told the bank that its 6,000 employees who will occupy the 800-foot tower must struggle through traffic or walk from local subway stations like everybody else.

The story has struck a powerful chord in the New York area, playing on traditional themes of family values and immigrants working hard.

"I came from Greece to America to work hard for a better life, and for 35 years I have been in this kitchen seven days a week," said Mr. Diakos, 59. "To take it from me would be a great injustice. Now I am saved. I feel like a new man."

The new Goldman Sachs building will tower over a financial district being built in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Wall Street and the site of the World Trade Center. Leading Wall Street companies have been lured to Jersey by low corporate taxes, cheaper land prices and lower rents.

Goldman's plans for its new tower entailed flattening Mr. Diakos' four-story, red-brick building a scruffy leftover of the original waterfront to make way for a four-lane road to its new headquarters.

Jersey City drew up a compulsory purchase and demolition order and offered $1.5 million for the Flamingo. But Mr. Diakos, his extended family and customers from the old dockyard area decided that some things are worth more than money.

Mr. Diakos' three daughters, Kalliope, 30, a graduate of the London School of Economics who works for Home Box Office; Joanna, 28; and Maria, 27, hired a lawyer and organized a protest. Some 12,000 residents signed a petition. Hundreds crowded into planning meetings to make their voices heard.

Joan Colletti, 53, a social worker, summed up the mood of residents as she ate moussaka at the Flamingo.

"This is the heart of the community, and while people in Wall Street might not notice, there is a community here," she said. "This is the only place we have left for good food at low prices, any time of the day or night."

Mayor Glenn Cunningham got the message. Last week he announced that he was lifting the demolition order. Goldman Sachs workers will have to negotiate a system of one-way streets to reach their office.

"I've listened to the people. God bless the Flamingo and may she fly forever," he said. "I'm pretty sure Goldman Sachs would have preferred the building to go down. But I've checked their voting address and they don't vote in Jersey City."

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs said the company was unruffled by the change of plan. Privately, however, its executives have a different message.

"This smacks of political opportunism," one said. Another said, "They should get real 6,000 people are going to try to get to work in that building, and this will create a safety problem in the streets they will have to use."

To Kalliope Diakos, such complaints miss the point. She watched her parents work round-the-clock to build up a business with loyal customers and make a modest fortune.

"All my father ever wanted to do was to go on running the Flamingo. It is because of his hard work that we could do all that," she said.

Mr. Diakos, surrounded by a family of women whose chatter with the customers is a part of his diner's allure, prefers to toss burgers and stuff cabbage in the background and keep his thoughts to himself.

But why had he refused $1.5 million that could have provided a comfortable retirement and an end to his 16-hour days?

"Money? I don't mind so much for the money, but all my life I wanted something, a business, to leave to my daughters, and it is here," he said.



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