Neighborhood group, partner look to renovate mansion along Cheesman, add cafe

A neighborhood group that owns a historic mansion along Cheesman Park has landed on a plan for the property’s future.

Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods has asked the city to rezone its Tears-McFarlane House at 1290 Williams St., a key step as it and a Denver-based real estate firm look to spend $3 million to renovate the mansion and add a cafe on the property.

“We, as a board, had a pretty vigorous debate as to whether or not we would retain the property, sell it and create an endowment, or reinvigorate it because for all intents and purposes … it has always been a community gathering space,” said Travis Leiker, CHUN board president. “And so the board at that time decided to keep the property and reinvest it and make it both viable for us as an organization, but also give it the much love and tender care that it really needs.”

The Tears-McFarlane House is located along Cheeseman Park on Williams Street. (Photos by Cassidy Ritter)

Built in 1899, the Tears-McFarlane House hasn’t been fully renovated since the early 1980s. CHUN has managed the property since 2005 and took over ownership in 2015.

The three-story, 8,800-square-foot mansion is used as an event space and houses offices for 10 organizations, including CHUN. Adjacent to the mansion sits a 1,500-square-foot, one-story building called Hedlund Hall, or the Annex. That building also is used for community events, and was a cafe in the early 1980s, Leiker said.

The association has requested the rezoning in conjunction with real estate firm City Street Investors, which will take a 50 percent ownership stake in the property if the rezoning is approved. City Street is part of the group that also plans to redevelop the Evans School in the Golden Triangle.

CHUN and City Street are asking the site be rezoned as a Planned Unit Development, which allows the applicant to customize the property to fit their specific needs.

The new rezoning wouldn’t drastically affect the mansion, which would remain approved for office and residential uses. But it would allow CHUN to tear down the Annex building and construct a one-story cafe in its place.

If the rezoning is approved, CHUN would tear down the Annex building and replace it with a one-story cafe.

The eatery would offer coffee, salads and sandwiches during the day, and wine and small plates in the evening.

“This is not a destination that we’re envisioning,” CHUN board member Megan Whelan said. “It’s a place for people that are using the park to engage. … We really are trying to engage with people who are here.”

CHUN and City Street said the desire for a coffee shop or wine bar was a common refrain when they surveyed the Cap Hill community and park users between 2017 and 2019 about what should become of the property.

The mansion, meanwhile, would see a significant renovation package, including fixing cracked walls, converting the basement into usable office space, adding a fresh coat of paint, updating fixtures and renovating the floors.

CHUN Board President Travis Leiker points at a site plan for the property.

Deferred maintenance on the house is estimated to cost more than $250,000, according to CHUN documents. The broader renovation package, along with construction of the cafe, is expected to run north of $3 million, said Pat McHenry, a principal with City Street.

Consultant Bruce O’Donnell with Starboard Realty, who is spearheading the rezoning push, said the city will host two public hearings on the rezoning request, likely six to eight months from now.

“The fastest anything could possibly happen with all the design and reviews and permitting and stuff would be maybe 18 months after rezoning,” he said. “That would be optimistic.”

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Steve Weil

Selling an interest in the historic house is a very poor decision. Let the developer have a lease, but keep control of the property. Selling public assests to private entities is poor policy. Furthermore many residents in the neighborhood oppose the change of use. There has not been a proper public hearing on the matter.

Steve Weil, 1025 Humboldt St