Loretto Heights plan shows its potential to become a southwest Denver destination

The 85-page draft plan calls for housing, restaurants and shops revamping the former college campus.
5 min. read
The former Loretto Heights campus in Harvey Park South, Nov. 2, 2017 (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The first draft of a redevelopment plan for the Loretto Heights campus depicts a central hub including housing, restaurants and other entertainment amenities for the area while paying close attention to historic preservation.

The 85-page Loretto Heights Area Plan released this week would guide development for a 300-acre section of southwest Denver, which includes the 72-acre former college campus.

The campus features 15 historic buildings and structures. The area mapped out in the plan includes portions of Harvey Park, Harvey Park South and College View.

Senior City Planner Jason Morrison is serving as project manager for the plan, which follows guidelines set by the Denver Comprehensive Plan 2040 and Blueprint Denver.

"Really, the purpose of the draft plan is to create a vision for the community, and the plan itself will help guide future development, future zoning decisions," Morrison said. "This particular area of the city doesn't have any guiding documents."

The process started in October and since then they've had two community meetings. A third one is scheduled for July 9. Community members are encouraged to read the plan online and provide feedback by July 12

Mark Witkiewicz, a principal at Westside Investment Partners, which bought the property in July 2018, said they could have easily gone directly to the city with their own plan, but they took a different approach giving local residents a say.

"Community is what creates great projects," he said.

He called the process so far "beautiful" but said it won't be possible to please "100 percent of people." At this point, he and his partners have a lowdown on what community members want: A place to call their own.

"Other parts of Denver get their cool things and southwest Denver has been kind of stuck," Witkiewicz said. "They don't believe that they've been given the same thing."

Community members want healthy food options and mixed-used developments, including a mixture of low- and high-income housing options.

Another clear message: "Please don't tear down iconic structures."

That will involve some adaptive reuse while adding new structures that are "sensitive" to the campus' historic nature. And perhaps the biggest challenge here will be keeping the theater.

District Councilman Kevin Flynn said ensuring the theater on the campus is redeveloped and kept intact is among his biggest personal priorities. Last year, he was excited to share, the Colorado Symphony played shows there.

A community meeting about the future of the Loretto Heights campus in Harvey Park South, Jan. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Both Flynn and Witkiewicz mentioned a feasibility study suggesting it would take between $20 million to $22 million to make necessary upgrades to the theater. Flynn admits it will be a heavy lift, but said Mayor Michael Hancock has supported its redevelopment.

The space is one Witkiewicz said many people in the community value more for its "spirit than physical being." It's a place where they recall their children's recitals, past plays and graduations.

"We are really pushing hard to get that urban renewal component baked into that theater," Witkiewicz said.

Flynn also said there are no plans to remove bodies from the cemetery on the campus, where 62 Sisters of Loretto were laid to rest. The Sisters founded the original college on the campus and used to own the property.

"This is the historic heart of southwest Denver," Flynn said. It's near Ft Logan, where future president Dwight D. Eisenhower once served as a recruiting officer. "There is more history in Denver than what exists downtown and in East Denver. Here's a chance to preserve more of it."

Flynn hopes the project will turn the campus into southwest Denver's "living room."

But he also has concerns. He doesn't want any new development obscuring or minimizing the historic buildings on the campus, and avoiding this would mean putting a limit on buildings heights. He said the draft allows up to eight stories in some areas, which he doesn't support.

He also wants to ensure there's a proper street network. He wants the campus to be a destination, not a throughway for nearby neighborhoods.

The former Lortetto Heights campus in Harvey Park South, Nov. 2, 2017 (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

He said the plan largely reflects the consensus of the southwest Denver community. Flynn said he was genuinely surprised to see the amount of feedback and excitement. A meeting in January drew more than 200 people.

"I think we heard pretty loud and clear that the campus needs to be, needs to become the iconic southwest Denver place," Flynn said. "I have lived here for 38 years. One thing that's really obvious ... southwest Denver has lacked a place that it can call its living room."

He envisions the area becoming a destination for locals and people outside the city and county limits (the area borders Sheridan and is near Englewood). The goal is to have it become southwest Denver's version of a Civic Center or Union Station.

"Loretto Heights has the possibility of being that place for us," Flynn said.

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