A Historic Denver Campus Is on Its Way to Becoming Affordable Housing

Since 1929, Pancratia Hall has stood on the Loretto Heights campus, which acted as a southwest Denver educational facility for more than a century. Now, after the hall has been vacant for years, developers have launched a project to convert the building’s dorm rooms, chapel, attics and even its gymnasium into affordable apartments that are both one-of-a-kind and state-of-the-art.

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Photo courtesy of Hartman Ely Investments.

On October 13, Denver and the partners behind Pancratia Hall’s restoration including Hartman Ely Investments, Proximity Green, PNC Real Estate and the Denver Housing Authority broke ground on the project, known as Pancratia Hall Lofts. The repurposed building at 3001 South Federal Boulevard will include 72 affordable housing units for tenants whose income falls in or below a threshold of 30% to 80% of the area median income. Right now in Denver, for a family of four, the area median income is $100,000.

Pancratia Hall is named after Mother Pancratia Bonfils, who founded the Loretto Heights campus with the Sisters of Loretto in the 1800s. The sisters owned the campus until 1988, after which it was rebranded and renamed twice. The most recent version of the school, Colorado Heights University, closed at the end of 2017. Westside Investment Partners, a Colorado-based developer, has owned the campus since 2018.

Now, the partners’ conversion effort is dedicated to historic preservation. It will restore deteriorating elements on the outside of the building and will also preserve historic elements on the interior, such as stained glass windows and terrazzo tiled hallways — making for some truly unique Denver apartments.

“We’re trying to use every single square foot within the beautiful old building, ” said Jim Hartman, manager at Hartman Ely Investments. “We feel so lucky that we are able to take our team’s talent and create this product for very lucky folks in Denver. People will get to live here, instead of have to live here.”

Of the many unique aspects of the affordable housing development, one is the way the project has been funded. As both a historic site — Hartman said the developers aim to get Pancratia Hall on the National Register of Historic Places — and an affordable housing development, Pancratia Hall Lofts has been funded through historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits.

On top of that, the City and County of Denver has contributed a $3.3 million cash flow loan to the project. To date, the city has financed numerous affordable housing projects to combat Denver’s long-running housing crisis. As of  October 2020, more than 1,600 city-funded affordable units were currently under construction with an additional 1,055 in the planning stage.

Construction on the Pancratia Hall Lofts is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2021. Applications to live in the lofts will be overseen by the Denver Housing Authority.

The project is just one part of a larger effort by Westside to preserve, restore and repurpose the entirety of the century-old Loretto campus, a plan that comes from more than 50 meetings with neighborhoods and community members.

“First and foremost, we heard the buildings that were on the property were very important to the community,” said Mark Witkiewicz, principal at Westside Investment Partners. “We also heard that open space was important and that the community simply did not want a very dense redevelopment project going.”

When the entire campus has been refurbished, the project will have brought a rough estimate of 1,200 to 1,300 residential housing units to the site, and 12% of them will be affordable units, Witkiewicz said. Additionally, the team is working to transform the campus into a dynamic, pedestrian-friendly space for the community to come together.

“Southwest Denver has been overlooked for decades. There is nowhere in southwest Denver where southwest Denver comes together,” Witkiewicz said. “We heard from the community that this was so important to them. At the end of the day, what the community has been asking for is just a place to call their own.”

The developer welcomes feedback and collaboration from organizations and residents in the area. To learn more about the project, visit Hartman Ely’s website or Proximity Green’s website; or, attend a monthly community meeting with the developers. Meetings are held virtually on the last Tuesday of each month. Contact Mark Witkiewicz at [email protected]

[Update on November 3 at 11:07 a.m.: A previous version of this story stated there are 1,200-1,300 affordable units but only 12% of those units will be allocated for affordable living. We’ve updated the article accordingly.]