The storied history of the former Colorado Heights University campus has caught a lifeline again after a local developer struck a deal to purchase the property, an iconic site perched atop southwest …
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Originally founded 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, the southwest Denver facility 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.
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 either completed their programs of study or successfully transferred to other educational institutions, primarily in the Denver metro area, a statement by Catellus Development Corporation said. About 500 students were enrolled in the university around the time it announced its closing.
How the future of the campus has unfolded:
Councilmember, community seek voice in university closing
Community discusses hopes for historic campus
Colorado Heights’ likely buyer to keep historic features
Colorado Heights deal falls apart
The storied history of the former Colorado Heights University campus has caught a lifeline again after a local developer struck a deal to purchase the property, an iconic site perched atop southwest Denver.
Westside Investment Partners, a Glendale-based real estate and development group, is expected to buy the property, a 70-acre campus at 3001 S. Federal Blvd. that 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.
California-based Catellus Development Corporation was expected to purchase the property, but the campus's owner rejected the final financial offer earlier this year and decided against the sale. Westside went under contract to buy the property in early May and aims to complete the sale by late July, said Andrew Klein, a principal at Westside.
“We're planning an urban mixed-use village respectful of the neighboring communities,” Klein said. “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.”
Still affectionately known to locals as Loretto Heights, the property was the subject of several community meetings in 2017 and this April, where community members discussed its future. Area residents have expressed concern about preserving the administration building and the campus's cemetery, where dozens of dead nuns lie, according to Kevin Flynn, Denver city councilmember representing the area.
Flynn met with Klein and and Kevin Smith, another principal in the company, on June 13, Flynn said.
“They are, of course, committed to preservation of the Loretto Academy (now administration) building and adjoining chapel, and of the nuns' cemetery,” Flynn said. “They also indicated they will explore preservation of other buildings on the campus.”
Westside aims to 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.
The company 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 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.
Local establishments, like a pizza restaurant, along with restaurants that may attract faraway customers could be part of the equation, Klein said.
“There's beautiful trees there you hope to preserve” and “create a place people want to come to,” he added.
The university's team worked to identify developers who were committed to “engaging the community while also protecting the heritage of the campus,” said Fred Van Liew, president of Colorado Heights University, in the news release.
“Councilman Flynn has engaged neighbors for six months, seeking feedback about initial development-planning concepts,” Liew said in the release.
The public input gathered in recent outreach meetings that Flynn organized set community expectations that the new owner will respect the site's history, Flynn said in the release.
“My initial meeting with the Westside team tells me that they get it,” Flynn said in the release. “They're local, and they know the site, so I'm looking forward to introducing them to my community stakeholders and neighborhoods.”
Catellus held meetings this year in January and February with the community — more than 130 attended the latter — that Flynn was involved in. Jim Gibson, a leader who has organized community meetings about the campus, said he and Klein plan to meet.
Westside has invested in and developed large projects along the Front Range, including High Point, a 1,200-acre community adjacent to the upcoming Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center in far northeast Aurora; Victory Ridge, north of Colorado Springs; and Elevate, a 20-story office building in Glendale, according to the release.
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