Detroit Developer Ted Gatzaros ‘achieved the American dream’ in Detroit, MI
Ted Gatzaros, 68, a Greektown developer who doubled-down on Detroit as others fled and was largely responsible for bringing casino gambling to the city, died Thursday at McLaren Macomb Hospital following a battle with lung and stomach cancers.
Gatzaros and his family own the recently reopened London Chop House, the Wah-Hoo Chinese restaurant and all three Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafés in metro Detroit.
Along with Jim Papas, a fellow Greek immigrant, Gatzaros developed what is now the International Center Building at 400 Monroe in Greektown and the Atheneum Suite Hotel. Their other projects included the Marquette, Blount and Murphy-Telegraph buildings.
"He was an investor in the city of Detroit when a lot of people were leaving," said close friend Art Papapanos, a vice president at the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "He started here from the bottom, and he achieved the American dream."
Gatzaros and Papas were also partners in a business venture that began in 1988 and tried to open the city's first casino with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. They provided the tribe with seven-tenths of an acre in Greektown next to Trappers Alley, a former seed company converted into a festival marketplace.
But the plan was scuttled in the mid-1990s by then-Gov. John Engler, who possessed veto power because the tribe was to build on land outside its reservation.
But Gatzaros and Papas had another card to play.
They helped lead the push for the 1996 statewide referendum that approved Detroit's three present-day casinos.
Then-Mayor Dennis Archer on Thursday praised Gatzaros' efforts, saying the casinos provided Detroiters jobs. "If we didn't have casino gaming in the city of Detroit, we'd have been bankrupt several years ago."
But the state's gaming board wouldn't grant Gatzaros a license because of allegations regarding his finances that were not publicly disclosed. So Gatzaros and Papas sold their stake in Greektown Casino, allowing it to open in 2000.
"It was very frustrating to try to defend against some of these allegations," said Gatzaros' attorney, Robert Young. "There was nothing ever proven because it didn't exist."
Several years later, the tribe offered Gatzaros a 1% stake in exchange for money still owed him. But he again needed state gaming board approval.
In 2007, the Michigan Gaming Control Board finally cleared Gatzaros and granted him partial ownership. "When that day came, he was very happy and proud and felt vindicated," Young said.
However, his ownership stake was dissolved following Greektown Casino's 2008 bankruptcy filing.
Gatzaros, born Aug. 10, 1944, was a teenager when he arrived here in 1963 from his native Greece.
Gatzaros washed dishes at Gus' Coney Island in downtown Detroit and took classes at Wayne State University.
He and Papas met and started a contracting business. In 1976, they started a restaurant - the Odyssey -- in Cadillac Tower. They sold it about five years later and opened Pegasus Taverna in Greektown.
The partners took on additional downtown redevelopments, including the high-profile Trappers Alley.
In a 2011 interview, Gatzaros credited his success in life to hard work, initiative and his adopted homeland. He scoffed at the notion of a 40-hour work week for an entrepreneur; "you need to make a commitment for 80-plus hours per week."
"Detroit is one of the very few places where dreams for minorities and immigrants can become realities," he said.
Gatzaros, a Grosse Pointe resident and naturalized U.S. citizen, is survived by his wife, Maria; son, Nico Gatzaros; daughter, Ellena Moisides and three grandchildren.
A private memorial service will be held next week.