After more than a year of meetings held by community members in southwest Denver, residents still don’t have a clear picture of what the future holds for the former Colorado Heights University …
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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, 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
After more than a year of meetings held by community members in southwest Denver, residents still don’t have a clear picture of what the future holds for the former Colorado Heights University campus, a historic property that sits at one of the highest points in the city.
The 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, was expected to be owned by Catellus Development Corporation, but the campus’s owner rejected the final financial offer and decided against the sale.
Denver City Councilmember Kevin Flynn announced the details in a newsletter emailed to area residents in early May, explaining that Catellus, based in California, failed to reach agreement with the campus’s owner, the Japan-based Teikyo University Group.
“The university has gone back to three of the other (potential) buyers and may be reaching a deal soon, but I don’t know when,” Flynn said May 30. “I fully expect that the next buyer will understand the vision that the community has expressed.”
The sprawling campus — still affectionately known as Loretto Heights to area residents — is 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. Concerned about the historical value of the campus and its future, several local residents held meetings through 2017 on April 12, June 29, July 17 and Oct. 25. Catellus also held meetings this year in January and February with the community — more than 130 attended the latter — but it will now be up to another developer to field residents’ concerns.
Catellus said that despite the deal’s end, it’s still interested in the property.
“We do think the Colorado Heights University campus is still a great opportunity for future development,” said Jessica Reynolds, director of marketing for the company. “We remain interested and look forward to continuing conversations into the future.”
Catellus’ ideas were “cookie cutter,” said Jim Gibson, a leader who has organized community meetings about the campus.
“I was pleased with (Catellus) reaching out, but I wasn’t pleased with the content of their reaching out,” Gibson said. “I don’t think they were showing much imagination.”
Catellus had envisioned single-family homes, apartments along South Federal Boulevard and a possible charter-school operator using the administration building, Gibson said.
“We just didn’t want to see another cookie-cutter residential development,” said Gibson, adding that a housing plan that doesn’t consider the history of the site wouldn’t be satisfactory. “We want to see some open space there, but we didn’t want to be too prescriptive.”
In community meetings, residents proposed restaurants, gathering places, an art museum, affordable housing, a park or a multi-use complex with artists’ lofts and a theater as development options they would support. Another desire was to have the campus continue as an educational institution.
Formally, Gibson’s community group voted within itself in favor of 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 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.
Flynn’s newsletter said that Fred Van Liew, president of the former Colorado Heights University, reiterated the owner’s requirement that the administration building and adjoining chapel be preserved by the eventual buyer. That building was originally part of Loretto Heights Academy, which opened in 1891.
Colorado Heights will continue to work with Catholic organization Sisters of Loretto on its offer to donate the campus’s cemetery to it, Van Liew said in a November statement. Sixty-two dead nuns lie there, according to Flynn.
“The guarantee of preservation for the historical administration building in the chapel is still in place,” said Flynn, who represents the city council’s District 2, the southwest corner of the city. “That is a condition of the sale no matter who the buyer is. Also, the cemetery will be preserved as part of the sale no matter who the buyer is.”
In June 2017, 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 because of the existing college dorms, Flynn said.
On April 17 this year, a group of about two dozen, called the Loretto Heights Community Initiative Steering Committee, met to discuss updates on the campus with Flynn. A prospective, unidentified charter school that worked with Catellus remains interested in possibly occupying the administration building, according to the meeting minutes.
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