As a one-of-a-kind booster of downtown Salt Lake City, the late real-estate executive Vasilios Priskos should not just get awards posthumously, supporters said. He should have awards named after him.
Priskos died last October at age 53 after a long fight with cancer — leaving a big gap in Utah’s commercial real estate community and especially the dynamic world of downtown development.
Now, as the city marks its first Downtown Week, the affable and well-known businessman, mentor, family man, entrepreneur, urban landowner, developer and founder of real estate firm InterNet Properties has been memorialized with a series of honors.
One of the Salt Lake Chamber’s top downtown accolades will forever bear his name. The mayor has dubbed a new midblock pedestrian walkway after Priskos. And later this week, graffiti artists will paint an unofficial tribute to him on Exchange Plaza.
The son of Greek immigrants came to the United States in 1966 at age 2, born to Chris and Tula Prazikos Priskos in the village of Kamaritsa on the Greek island of Evia. Priskos worked in his family’s restaurant, The Royal Eatery, on downtown Main Street, before earning a University of Utah finance degree, going into real estate and eventually becoming a quiet downtown force.
By his own account, working at the restaurant was how Priskos first fell in love with Salt Lake City’s urban core.
“It didn’t matter if they were in a suit or just a regular blue collar worker,” he wrote not long before his death, “people came in and I got to know them, understand their stories and see downtown as a real community.”
‘A consummate negotiator’
One of the dozens of people who nominated Priskos for a 2018 downtown achievement award urged the city’s Downtown Alliance to “give this great man the recognition he deserves.”
“In addition to being a successful businessman,” the person wrote, “he was a friend to countless downtown businesses and played a pivotal role in downtown’s current renaissance.”
Instead, the Downtown Alliance, representing merchants and property owners in the central business district, is permanently renaming its annual board chair’s award after Priskos.
“He touched the lives of people from all walks of life, from bank presidents to elected officials to mom-and-pop Realtors to graffiti artists,” the alliance’s board president Molly Mazzolini said Wednesday.
“He worked tirelessly to improve our community, often helping struggling businesses by giving them sweetheart deals or letting them out of the terms of their leases,” Mazzolini said. “He loved a good deal and was a consummate negotiator.”
A grieving tenant of one of Priskos’ many commercial properties wrote to the chamber shortly after his death.
“His passing has affected me greatly, mainly because of how he treated me,” the renter wrote. “I know I wasn’t his best friend or favorite tenant, but he always made me feel like both when I was with him.”
Mazzolini said that in the last decade of his life, Priskos had been nominated for similar achievement awards eight times. On each occasion, he called the Downtown Alliance and had his name pulled from the list, she said, “because he wanted to honor other people.”
Etched in stone
On Monday, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski led a dedication of Vasilios Priskos Walkway, a midblock pedestrian route off downtown Main Street that was part of the city’s overhaul and beautification of Regent Street, just east of George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater.
The honor, Biskupski said, resonated with Priskos’ steady advocacy for revitalizing downtown.
“His life’s work is seen all over our city,” the mayor said. “As a husband, father, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Vasilios touched the lives of many in our community — and I know I wouldn’t be mayor today if it wasn’t for his advice and support.”
She and others noted his involvement in buying and renovating a host of downtown parcels, including the historic Ezra Thompson building. While converting that Main Street property into a for-profit institute now known as Neumont College of Computer Science, Priskos sold the city an adjacent property that made the Regent Street project possible.
Priskos’ son Christian said that with the walkway’s renaming and honorary plaque, his father “was etched in the stones of downtown’s legacy now, which is something he always wanted.”
On Wednesday, downtown merchants honored Priskos in ceremonies at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Others receiving achievement awards were Vestar, owner of The Gateway Mall; The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s largest daily newspaper; and officials behind joint city and county efforts to create an arts and cultural core downtown.
Christian Priskos, who has assumed day-to-day management of InterNet Properties alongside his brother Nico, now the company’s CEO, described the week’s honors as “pretty surreal.”
“It’s like my dad was a celebrity and I had no idea growing up,” Christian Priskos said. “We’re getting a sense of all the people he touched.“
However, he noted his father hated recognition. “So it’s kind of bittersweet,” he said. “At the same time, deep down inside he really would have loved this and would have appreciated everything everyone has done for him.
“With all the things he did for so many other people over the years,” the son said, “it’s almost like coming full circle.”