Urban Land Conservancy, Denver Public Schools, and Denver Housing Authority Purchase Former Johnson & Wales Campus With Plans to Preserve for Education, Economic Development, and Housing
Urban Land Conservancy (ULC), Denver Public Schools (DPS), and Denver Housing Authority (DHA) announce they have purchased the former Johnson & Wales University Denver campus today. Last summer, the university announced it would cease operations in Denver after the 2020-21 school year and sought to sell the entire 25-acre campus. In January of this year, JWU representatives, using CBRE brokers, selected ULC as the lead buyer of the property. ULC submitted a proposal in partnership with DPS and DHA. Of three finalists that bid on the campus, ULC was the only nonprofit and the only organization with goals to preserve the campus for community purposes.
With the completion of this transaction, DPS now owns the west side of the campus and plans to expand Denver School of the Arts (DSA) and to utilize the campus as a community arts hub. “When I heard that the [Johnson & Wales] University would be selling the property right across the street, I began thinking about how DSA might expand to the campus to serve more students,” said Dr. Anthony McWright, Principal of Denver School of the Arts. The expansion will allow DSA to accept 500 to 700 additional students over time, focusing on equity and inclusion of low-income students and students of color. The west campus includes the Wildcat Center, Whatley Chapel, Academic Center, and Aspen Hall.
Denver Housing Authority (DHA) purchased the south portion of the campus, which includes Triangolo Hall and Gaebe Hall, two former dormitory buildings, with the goal of expanding affordable housing opportunities in the community. “DHA is excited about this unique partnership to preserve opportunities for affordable housing in Denver and looks forward to working with the surrounding neighborhoods to create a vibrant community with our partners on campus,” said David Nisivoccia, Executive Director of Denver Housing Authority. Both DHA and DPS were represented in this transaction by Dorit Fischer and Hayden Hirschfeld at NAI Shames Makovsky.
ULC is the new owner of the east side of the campus and holds the land in a 99-year ground lease, which preserves its affordability and commitment to community-serving uses in perpetuity. ULC is partnering with the following organizations which will lease and/or purchase buildings on the east campus:
- St. Elizabeth’s School, moving into Centennial Hall, has been serving Northeast Denver for 15 years as an intentionally inclusive school with a dedication to equity, belonging, and educational opportunity for all students. The school’s community represents the mix of races, ethnicities, faiths, and family cultures that make up Denver, Colorado. They hold the fundamental belief that every family should have affordable and sustainable access to a great education for their children, and an individualized tuition plan allows the school to enroll families from a broad socio-economic spectrum that is truly representative of the neighborhoods it serves.
- The Kitchen Network, Denver’s longest-running shared kitchen, which incubates specialty food businesses, will expand to the Culinary Arts Building and Vail Hall on the campus allowing the organization to double its impact and number of small businesses served. The Kitchen Network has retained renowned JWU chef Jorge de la Torre and will also partner with Emily Griffith Technical College to provide culinary arts training and certifications.
- Archway Communities will purchase all four residential buildings on the east campus: Johnson Hall, Wales Hall, President’s Hall, and Founder’s Hall. Archway elevates lives by providing affordable housing, food security, and the supportive social services people need to thrive.
Meeting the Needs of the Community
The campus sits at the intersection of two very different communities: South Park Hill, with an average income of $141,851 and 6.06% families in poverty, and East Colfax, with an average household income of $57,413 and 23.6% families in poverty. Acquisition of the property furthers the goals of ULC, which intervenes in the metro-area real estate market on behalf of low-income, disadvantaged communities currently put at risk for displacement from gentrification by commercial redevelopment.
“We acknowledge the foresight of Dr. Anthony McWright for seeing this opportunity to expand DSA to serve more students and for contacting ULC to partner with DPS for that purpose and more community-serving uses. We look forward to transforming this into a campus without walls,” says Aaron Miripol, ULC President & CEO. He adds, “This all happened on a very tight timeframe. We were able to close within that time because of great partnerships with local nonprofits, foundations, and lenders. Specifically, ULC access to low-interest debt through the Metro Denver Impact Facility (MDIF) was essential to our ability to purchase the campus.” MDIF lenders include FirstBank, CHFA, Gates Family Foundation (GFF), The Colorado Health Foundation (CHF), Gary Community Investments (GCI), Colorado Trust, and Northern Trust. GFF and GCI each awarded grant dollars, and Kenneth King Foundation provided a zero-percent loan to aid in the acquisition.
Partners will begin to transition to the campus as early as this summer. St. Elizabeth’s has plans to start the 2021-22 school year in their new location this August and has engaged with current and prospective student families about the move. Other partner organizations will move to the campus over a more extended period. For instance, DSA will require renovations to prepare buildings for the unique needs of music, dance, and theater programming and plans to start classes on the campus in the 2022-23 school year. The Watson Wenk Group will facilitate engagement with community members and stakeholders, both collective and organization-specific, over the weeks and months to come to determine uses and guidelines for campus open space and amenities.
Building on the History and Legacy of the Campus
Johnson & Wales acquired the first portion of the Denver campus in 1999 and welcomed its inaugural class in 2000. The site was home to Colorado Women’s College and University of Denver Law School prior to that.
ULC’s Vice President of Master Site Development, Erin Clark, shared, “As a Denver native who spent part of my childhood around the corner from this campus and who watched my mother graduate from DU Law School there, I am immensely proud to have been involved in preserving this longstanding community asset. Many of our region’s female leaders graduated from Colorado Women’s College over the past century. So, to have been able to work with other women such as Sara Walsh from DPS, Haley Jordahl from DHA, and Adriana Murphy and her team from St. Elizabeth’s School, along with many others in pulling this deal together, has been a real honor.”