After more than a year of community meetings and one deal that fell through, the southwest Denver community can let out a long-held breath now that the former Colorado Heights University campus site has sold.
“We're excited,” said Andrew Klein, a principal at Westside Investment Partners, the Glendale-based real estate and development group that purchased the property July 31. “It's such a great piece of ground — so beautiful, so iconic.”
What will become of the former campus — still affectionately known to locals as Loretto Heights — isn't fully certain yet, but fears of a cavalier developer swooping in to knock down the site's historic buildings should be relieved. Westside is committed to preservation of the administration building, the adjoining chapel and the cemetery, where dozens of dead nuns lie, according to Kevin Flynn, Denver city councilmember representing the area.
The 70-acre campus at 3001 S. Federal Blvd. was once a Catholic college. First named Loretto Heights Academy, it grew out of an effort by the Sisters of Loretto dating back to the late 1800s. It's visible for miles around in the south Denver metro area, and its reddish-brown administration building with a tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jim Gibson, a leader who has organized community meetings about the campus, said he and Martha Kirkpatrick — a member of the Loretto Heights Community Initiative, the group following and giving input on the campus' future — met with Flynn and Westside’s team in July. Kirkpatrick gave a presentation on the site's history, and Gibson said Westside showed interest in its past. Klein later waxed sentimental about the campus.
“The best thing about this property and what stands out to me even more so than the history is how it's affected people's lives,” Klein said. “Because no matter who you talk to, they know someone who went to college there” or “someone's child has done a 'Nutcracker' performance there.”
Klein added, “Just in my office, one of (the employees) got married there, in the chapel. And that's just in my office.”
The property was the subject of several community meetings in 2017 and this April, where community members discussed its future, one that loomed large with sentimental weight for surrounding neighborhoods.
“We're planning an urban mixed-use village respectful of the neighboring communities,” Klein said in June. “We're certainly not planning on putting huge buildings next to homes. All the commercial (use) will be along Federal (Boulevard) and will hopefully be a mixture of neighborhood-serving and regional-draw uses.”
Westside is planning a development with high-density residential — apartments and single-family housing — and commercial elements. It plans to request from the City of Denver a rezoning, a change of the type of land uses allowed on the property. Zoning regulations already permit multi-unit housing and attached single-family homes, Klein said. Some limited commercial uses are currently allowed as well.
Westside will be the master developer for the campus, which is owned by the Japan-based Teikyo University Group. As the master developer, Westside will sell parcels of land to builders.
Local establishments, like a pizza restaurant, along with restaurants that may attract faraway customers could be part of the equation, Klein said in June.
Westside is also considering preserving buildings other than the administration building and chapel, “particularly the theater building because of the fact that it has meant so much to the community,” Klein said July 31. Pancratia Hall — named for Mother Pancratia Bonfils, one of the campus' founders — will also be repurposed, according to Westside's website. It was designed as a dormitory building, according to Historic Denver, a nonprofit historic-preservation organization.
California-based Catellus Development Corporation was expected to purchase the property before, but the campus's owner rejected the final financial offer earlier this year and decided against the sale.
“We're going to make a project that everyone's going to be proud of — that's the goal,” Klein said.
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