Franciscan spirit integral to Marycrest redevelopment
By Julie Filby
Photo by James Baca/DCR
An artist’s illustration depicts a portion of the planned redevelopment at the Marycrest campus.
Plans to redevelop the land around the Marycrest convent in northwest Denver—home to the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity for more than 70 years—include keeping the sprit of St. Francis alive.
“It’s a very contemplative piece of property,” explained Franciscan Sister Patty Podhaisky. “And (the developers) have worked hard to retain that peace.”
The sisters, who first came to Colorado in 1917, purchased the residence at 5200 Federal Blvd. for $25,000 in 1938. They converted it into a motherhouse for the Sacred Heart Province, and christened the house and its surrounding acreage “Marycrest.”
In 2005 they put the convent and land up for sale with the mission of keeping it an equitable space with affordable housing and eco-friendly ideals. In developers Urban Ventures and Perry-Rose Development Co., they found those shared ideals.
“It’s really been exciting as Franciscans to find that kind of camaraderie and similarity of values in developers,” said Sister Podhaisky. “They don’t have to have a religious name to be called Franciscan … there’s something very Franciscan about them.”
The property, which is under contract, will close in February or March. Pending necessary approvals, infrastructure is expected to begin in May or June on the community of nearly 400 housing units, including condominiums, townhomes, stacked townhomes, apartments, senior co-housing units and duplexes.
“The sisters have been intimately involved every step of the way,” said Susan Powers, president of Urban Ventures. “It’s a development that’s really consistent with the principles the sisters have expressed to us, and the values we have as developers.”
The sisters—who serve in high schools, early childhood education, Hispanic ministry and other ministries—will continue to live on the property in the recently built Casa Chiara (Italian for “St. Clare House”). Seven of the 17 Franciscan sisters in the Denver Archdiocese have resided in these duplexes at 5314 N. Columbine Road since they were completed in 2009.
Marycrest Assisted Living residences at 2850 Columbine Road will continue to operate as they do now; as well as the Emmaus House transitional housing for women and children.
“We’ll be great neighbors and groundskeepers—and cheerleaders,” said Sister Podhaisky, with a laugh. “We’re in relationship with it (the redevelopment), but it’s going to be its own thing.”
Phase one, a 72-unit apartment building and 13 townhomes, should be completed in 2013. The next phase, which involves the original convent, is expected to be completed in 2015. If possible, the convent will be renovated and opened as senior co-housing units. If it’s not financially feasible, it will be torn down and replaced.
Co-housing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods.
The overall $85 million project is expected to be done in 2017 or 2018.
Homes will be available in a wide range of prices, in hopes the area will reflect diversity and the community as a whole, not just one segment.
“This would be the first time that there would be seniors (co-housing) adjacent to a family (co-housing),” explained Powers. “We’ll try and create opportunities for intergenerational experiences as well.”
The name for the development “Aria” (Italian for “air”) was suggested by the project’s award-winning architect Michelle Kaufman of Michelle Kaufman Studio in Sausalito, Calif.
“Michelle lives in the Bay Area and every time she would come to town, she would say: ‘This has to be the highest point in the city—look at the air here,’” Powers relayed. “Then she called one day and said, ‘We have to call it ‘Aria.’”
Plans also call for shared outdoor amenities, community gardens, walking paths, activities to bring neighbors together, and green features such as use of recycled materials, high insulation values, alternative energy sources, and energy-efficient and water-conserving appliances.