Denver’s historic Loretto Heights redevelopment is taking shape with new local partners

Highlights of the partners’ work include creating affordable and senior housing units.

In 1891, Colorado Heights University was Loretto Heights Academy for catholic girls. Today, it is a 70-plus acre infill site being redeveloped.

COURTESY OF COLORADO HEIGHTS UNIVERSITY

The years-in-the-making redevelopment of the historic Loretto Heights campus is moving forward with several new development partners, including a new partner considering adding senior housing to the 70-acre campus.

The Loretto Heights campus dates back to 1891 when it was an educational institution for Catholic girls. In July 2018, Denver-based Westside Investment Partners purchased what was at the time referred to as the Colorado Heights University Campus at 3001 S. Federal Blvd. for $16.5 million, according to past Denver Business Journal reporting. The university owned the campus since 1989, but the school closed in 2017. The southwest Denver site is bound by South Federal Boulevard to the east, West Amherst Avenue to the north, South Irving Street to the west and West Dartmouth Avenue to the south.

Over the next few years, Westside worked with Denver City Council to approve a plan for the project and rezone the size so it could turn into a mixed-use development. Westside worked closely with the surrounding community to plan a site that met the neighborhood’s wants and needs.

Most recently, that means bringing on a developer to help bring multifamily housing to the site. On March 3, Westside sold a parcel of land for $1.9 million to Loretto LLC, an entity made of principals from two Denver-based firms, affordable housing developer Urban Inc. and homebuilder Esprit Homes.

Chris Muhle, a developer at Urban Inc., said that the full size of the land Loretto LLC purchased was a little over 97,000 square feet, directly north of what will be the campus’ Grand Lawn.

The group is considering the site not just as a multifamily project, but specifically for senior housing. On March 2, concept plans were filed with the City of Denver for a few different design iterations. The primary site plan would have four stories of residential living with 139 units over two levels of parking. Alternate site plans call for 104 units across three stories of residential over a single level of parking.

Concept plans represent the earliest stages of development and are subject to change. The submitted concept plans are still going through the intake process with the city. Muhle expects it will be about 12 to 18 months before the apartments break ground.

“We felt there’s a need for seniors out there, based on the potential uses going into [Loretto Heights],” Muhle told the DBJ, adding that there was also affordable housing, single-family and family-oriented multifamily residences already planned for the campus.

Westside has brought on several development partners, many of which are local developers.

“One of the things the community asked about when we were going through the area planning process, [was that] they didn’t want it to be a shopping mall where it’s all national brand stuff,” said Mark Witkiewicz, a principal at Westside. “We have a community here that is very local … so we’re trying to live up to that.”

The site plan for Loretto Heights includes a mix of new construction, such as new single-family housing, and restoring the existing historic buildings. Pancratia Hall will soon open as affordable housing. There are concept plans filed to turn the site directly north of the Grant Lawn into multifamily, possibly senior, housing.

PROVIDED BY WESTSIDE INVESTMENT PARTNERS

Loretto Heights does have a designated affordable living community. Pancratia Hall, one of the buildings built in 1929 after a founding Loretto Heights sister, operated in 1940 as a four-story classroom and dorm building. It is now being repurposed by Denver-based Proximity Green and Boulder-based Hartman Ely Investments, or HEI, into 74 affordable housing units.

Converting Pancratia Hall into affordable housing units meant restoring the property and keeping the façade while turning the interior into a series of studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments. Half of the units are two- through four-bedroom offerings, which is meant to meet the city’s need for more family-friendly affordable units. Units are designated for residents between 30% and 80% of the area median income and the building is using Colorado Housing and Finance Authority low-income housing tax credits. Denver Housing Authority is managing the property.

Developers made Pancratia Hall a registered Denver landmark and are getting it on the national register for the National Park Service.

Grant Bennett, principal at Proximity Green, said that special consideration had to be made to things like heating and cooling the building. While many modern buildings have heating and cooling units that penetrate a building’s façade, they couldn’t do that at Pancratia Hall because of its historic nature and the preservation they were doing for the original façade.

But Bennett said the property is well-built, with wide hallways and light-filled stairways, which made it ideal for a multifamily repurpose.

Bennett and his partners specialize in converting historic projects into affordable housing.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime project. We know Denver is in huge need of affordable housing,” Bennett said, adding that the building had a similar history. “When we got into the project, we learned that Pancratia Hall’s upper two floors of dormitory space were originally the affordable housing at Loretto Heights. If you were on scholarship to Loretto Heights, you lived in Pancratia Hall.”

Bennett said the project is completing construction now and expects to have tenants move in at the end of the first quarter or at the beginning of the second quarter this year.

While much of the Loretto Heights campus is planned out, Witkiewicz said Westside is still looking at what to do with certain buildings, including the administration building.

“We’ve always envisioned that the administration building will be the last project, kind of the granddaddy of the project. So it should be the last thing that happens once we’re comfortable with everything around it,” he said.

For the entire Loretto Heights project, Witkiewicz said Westside initially projected a 10-year buildout, but that estimate has changed.

“I do believe now it’s going to be much, much quicker than that,” he said. “I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if it was built out in five years.”

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