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After 12 years of leasing classroom space in multiple downtown buildings, MSU Denver began its first semester on the 169-acre Auraria Campus, sharing academic space with the University of Colorado at Denver and the Community College of Denver.
The fact that MSU Denver would need its own campus someday was noted in a 1963 legislative report before the institution even opened. In 1966, President Ken Phillips asserted that only Auraria, the site of the first Front Range settlement, was suitable.
In 1968, the then-college received $12.3 million in federal urban renewal assistance for the acquisition of the Auraria land and the relocation of 400 residents and 249 businesses in the Westside Neighborhood. But the state’s budget crunch meant state money for capital construction was unlikely. With a growing population of college students, and both UCD and CCD also in desperate need of new homes, the truly transformative idea of a shared campus was born.
The idea proved controversial. Some professional planners praised the concept as the best example of inter-institutional cooperation in the nation, while others said it would combine all the worst aspects of higher education into one big, expensive failure.
Ultimately, Denver property owners passed a $5.8 million bond issue for Auraria in 1969, which led to state funding. By 1974, demolition was underway. Three years later, the Auraria Higher Education Center opened with an interesting mixture of new red brick buildings and beautiful old structures such as St. Cajetan’s and the homes on Historic 9th Street Park. Students were still Roadrunners, but they no longer had to navigate busy downtown streets while racing between buildings to get to class on time.