Denver

Community discusses hopes for historic campus

Loretto Heights is cherished location for many in southwest Denver

Posted 7/19/17

More restaurants and gathering places. An art museum. A park. A multi-use cultural complex with artists' lofts and a theater. Or, as it is now, a place for students to learn.

Those were among the …

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Denver

Community discusses hopes for historic campus

Loretto Heights is cherished location for many in southwest Denver

Posted

More restaurants and gathering places. An art museum. A park. A multi-use cultural complex with artists' lofts and a theater. Or, as it is now, a place for students to learn.

Those were among the many ideas proffered for the historic Loretto Heights campus by more than 50 community members who recently discussed the site's fate - sometimes emotionally - at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building at West Warren Avenue and South Sheridan Boulevard.

Norma Brown, who graduated from Loretto Heights, pushed for turning the administration building into a library.

"I've (had) an education that is more than book learning that stayed with me through many years," Brown said. "I would like to see that area become more of an educational type of thing ... It's got lots of space. You could also have an art museum, you could have beautiful parks ... I just feel this area needs a cultural center."

The June 29 meeting over the future of Colorado Heights University - still more affectionately known by its original Loretto Heights name - reflected a microcosm of the clashing needs and wants of living in an increasingly population-dense Denver. Englewood City Councilmembers Laurett Barrentine and Rita Russell; Denver City Councilmember Kevin Flynn, whose district includes the 126-year-old campus; and former Colorado state Rep. Tony Hernandez, a Denver Democrat, also attended.

"I am sad that this oasis in the city is going away," one attendee, in tears, said to the group.

Keeping community in conversation

Community members aired their desires for affordable housing, open space, more retail and an event center - and also shared their concerns that the neighborhood would change if a buyer builds affordable housing on the campus. One resident also worried about crimes and apparent danger in the area because of the potential for population density.

Jim Gibson, a main organizer for the community meeting and professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said he plans to continue holding the gatherings until after the property is sold. He plans to distill the community's desires into a report for the new owner and city officials. The next meeting has not yet been scheduled.

The not-for-profit, private university, owned by Japan-based Teikyo University Group, announced last November that it would close the institution toward the end of October. The 70-acre campus at 3001 S. Federal Blvd. sits at one of the highest points in Denver and houses 14 buildings, including a 1,000-seat theater, an interfaith chapel, a swimming pool, a cafeteria, residence halls and recreational amenities.

The historic graveyard on the campus has 62 nuns buried in it, Flynn said. The university has offered to donate the cemetery to the Catholic organization Sisters of Loretto, said Bronson Hilliard, a university spokesperson. That organization opened the campus in 1891.

Potential buyers will be evaluated on their commitment to preserve the iconic administration building and the chapel, Hilliard said.

Flynn said the Denver City Council has "very little" say in who will buy the property - 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 because of the existing college dorms, Flynn said.

But Flynn wants to keep the community in the conversation. He said he's had multiple meetings with Teikyo University Group leaders, and has been urging the city to acquire the 1,000-seat theater or find a way to retain it as a community building that could provide a "revenue stream" by hosting actors, artists, concerts and the like.

The school's real estate firm, Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis (CBRE), has asked interested buyers to submit qualifications by late July, Flynn said.

Differing visions for campus

At the VFW meeting, one of several in the past few months, residents shared their visions and concerns.

"I raised my children in this neighborhood," one resident said. "The character has changed. When I moved in, I felt safe with my children when they were little. Now, we have more lawlessness; we have people shooting off firecrackers every night, which is illegal."

MJ Neighbour, who has lived in the south Harvey Park area for 10 years, wanted more restaurants, "gathering places" and pubs.

"My hope is for a mixed-use complex where the theater is kind of integral for it," Neighbour said. "Maybe artists' lofts there - I would love to see an entertainment complex there."

Other residents pushed back against the idea of bars and restaurants and lobbied instead for a park or open space.

Marianne Ramos said she'd like the campus to continue as an educational institution.

"It would be so nice to have (kids in Denver) go to a college at Loretto Heights," she said, noting that it's near Kennedy and Lincoln high schools and next to the Denver School of Science and Technology College View.

Metro State looked at opening a satellite campus on the property, but backed out in March 2016 because of a $60,000 price tag, mostly related to asbestos, Flynn said.

Several residents suggested pursuing a landmark designation from the city, but Flynn said that would increase the property value to where it would be out of reach for buyers, and the area could lose the chance of development.

The administration building - known to some as "the tower building" - has been on the federal National Register of Historic Places since 1975, according to the register website.

Mark Upshaw, who has lived in neighborhoods near the university, remembers the serenity the campus brought him when he needed it.

"What I'm struck with is the cultural value, cultural landscape," said Upshaw, who would run around the campus to de-stress from his job as an architect.

"And I would get around the back of the campus, and all of that would drop away," he said. "I was in a very peaceful space."

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