Southwest Denver

Colorado Heights’ likely buyer to keep historic features

Former Loretto Heights campus will see storied structures preserved

Posted 11/16/17

After months of meetings by concerned community members, Colorado Heights University campus — still affectionately known as Loretto Heights to area residents — received some certainty when it selected a company to purchase the former school …

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Southwest Denver

Colorado Heights’ likely buyer to keep historic features

Former Loretto Heights campus will see storied structures preserved

Posted

After months of meetings by concerned community members, Colorado Heights University campus — still affectionately known as Loretto Heights to area residents — received some certainty when it selected a company to purchase the former school property.

The historic, 70-acre campus at 3001 S. Federal Blvd., a once-Catholic college that grew out of an effort by the Sisters of Loretto that dates back to 1891, is expected to be owned by Catellus Development Corporation. Colorado Heights University has discontinued operations, its website said.

Catellus, which has experience in transforming university campuses, brownfields and other sites into mixed-use developments, has committed to preserving the campus’s administration building and chapel as key features in the future development, the release said.

That’s a promise community members were striving for.

“I think a lot of folks who’ve been in the area for long time have some anxiety over potential changes that could be coming to the campus,” said Kevin Flynn, Denver city councilmember for District 2, in June.

Community meetings managed by several local residents on April 12, June 29, July 17 and Oct. 25 discussed the future of the campus, according to Jim Gibson, one community leader who has pushed for the preservation of its cultural significance.

Colorado Heights will continue to work with the Catholic organization Sisters of Loretto on its offer to donate the campus’s cemetery to it, university President Fred Van Liew said in the Nov. 1 statement.

The university plans to provide some financial assistance for the transfer of the cemetery, where 62 dead nuns lie, according to Flynn.

In June, Flynn said the city would become involved only if a buyer wanted to add uses that currently aren’t permitted, such as retail. Zoning regulations already permit multi-unit housing on the property becauseof the existing college dorms, Flynn said.

Restaurants, gathering places, an art museum, affordable housing, a park or a multi-use complex with artists’ lofts and a theater are all development options residents have proposed in community meetings. Another desire was to have the campus continue as an educational institution.

Formally, Gibson’s community group voted within itself to push for preserving views of the administration building, to explore whether a historic landmark designation by the city of Denver would be appropriate and to try to manage any adverse effects that new developments on the campus might pose to nearby neighborhoods, among other ideas. Nearly 40 community members at the Oct. 25 meeting, called a “Community Conversation,” at the Loretto Denver Center at 4000 S. Wadsworth Blvd. voted overwhelmingly for the ideas, which the group plans to present to the property’s buyer.

“I’m in a trust-but-verify mode,” said Gibson, who added that he’s cautious but optimistic about what Catellus has promised so far. “I think we have reason to have some optimism, but we’re gonna stay on top of it.”

Gibson wants southwest Denver residents to make their desires heard to produce a “win-win” for all involved, including the new potential property owner.

“Catellus will collaborate with community leaders and neighbors, Colorado Heights University, and the City and County of Denver to determine the best uses while working to preserve and transform the campus,” said Tom Marshall, executive vice president of Catellus, in the Nov. 1 statement.

The campus, once called Loretto Heights College, is steeped in Denver history that goes back more than a century.

Originally owned by the Sisters of Loretto, Loretto Heights Academy opened in 1891 after their original building in downtown Denver — the Catholic girls’ school St. Mary’s Academy of the Loretto Order, which opened about 1864 — grew to take up nearly the whole block by 1880, a 1985 school newspaper article said.

In 1948, it became Loretto Heights College, solely a four-year Catholic college for women, and later admitted male students. It closed in 1988, and three of its academic programs moved to what was then called Regis College, according to a Regis article.

Teikyo Loretto Heights University opened on the campus in 1989 and focused on international students. The Japan-based Teikyo University Group opened Colorado Heights University, a private, not-for-profit institution, in 2009.

The campus’s administration building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975 and still was as of July 2015, according to register documents.

Colorado Heights University announced its decision to close in November 2016 due to an insufficient student population. Also a factor were problems the United States Department of Education found with the agency that accredited its programs.

All students of the university have either completed their programs of study or successfully transferred to other educational institutions, primarily in the Denver metro area, Catellus’ statement said. About 500 students were enrolled in the university around the time it announced its closing.

A development program for the property will be determined in the coming months, the statement said.

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