Retirement Living: The Options Get Exciting
New retirement lifestyles need one other thing: new retirement-living options and, right now, there’s a rush to provide a panoply of choices, from in-town urban lifestyles (in Chicago, say) to seaside living in Mexico and all manner of options in between. If there’s a motto in this real estate niche, it’s that one size may have fit all in prior retirement waves, but that won’t work when it comes to accommodating the highly individualistic generation looking at downshifting now.

“Paternalistic retirement communities” — where retirees were herded much like college freshmen at a large university — “are history. Today it’s about providing the individual with the lifestyle experiences he or she wants,” says Lee Ratta, senior vice president of organizational advancement at Front Porch Development Company, a developer of active adult-living communities in many locations including Mexico, where its Luma community (pictured above) near Puerto Vallarta is drawing an age-50-plus population that craves sun and ocean. “Boomers will keep demanding new services,” says Ratta.

Case in point: 850 Lake Shore Drive, site of the former high-prestige Lake Shore Athletic Club, now is a “boutique senior living community,” says Matt Phillips, CEO of the developer Integrated Development Group. What’s crucial to this project — which offers around 140 units to an age-60-plus group — is that it’s in the thick of Chicago. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a block and a half away. Top-tier restaurants are nearby. Group outings to classical music are on the to-do list. “There is a group of seniors that want to live in an urban setting, and a trend is that more developers are responding with options,” says Phillips.

The Legacy at Willow Bend, in Plano, Texas, vividly shows the diverse forces that are shaping today’s senior communities. On the one hand, it is about living well, right now. So when Michael Ellentuck, president of The Legacy Senior Communities, Inc., was shaping this facility, he hired a top-level chef from a prominent Dallas country club and, most recently, from Rosewood Hotels because he wanted his residents to know they would be getting resort-quality food when they chose to eat on property. “Dining just may be the most social activity in many of our lives,” says Ellentuck, “and we want it to be memorable. Our goal is not to be a retirement community. We compare ourselves to resorts.”

Dream as big as you wish. At the Fox Hill senior condominiums and residences in Bethesda, Maryland (pictured below),just a few miles out of Washington, D.C., residents have access to all this: a gym/fitness center with Keiser athletic machines designed for seniors and used by elite athletes, an owner’s wine cellar for private collections, a full-service spa, three gourmet restaurants, an indoor golf range, a putting green, walking trails, and a swimming pool with electronic lifts, says the facility’s general manager, Don Shulman. Drawing on the proximity to Washington, Fox Hill puts on a guest speaker program that regularly brings in Beltway luminaries. “We recently heard from a four-star admiral, for instance,” says resident John Harvey, who says with a proud smile that the speaker was his son. He adds that two former ambassadors live in the complex and that the program, which frequently draws 80 to 100 residents, often offers insights into foreign affairs. “I love it here; there’s so much to do,” says Harvey, a retired physician.

This all certainly sounds like resort living of the best kind. Indeed, but with a key difference: The Legacy at Willow Bend, like hundreds of newer retirement communities around the nation, is constructed with full awareness that health may deteriorate. That’s why Legacy refers to itself as a “life-care community,” because it offers residents the opportunity to live in conventional homes or apartments but for those who need it, there are 40 assisted-living residences that provide ready access to stepped-up care. There are another 18 residences for patients needing memory care, and 60 private suites for skilled nursing — all located within a 28-acre gated community. What this means, says Ellentuck, is that a resident can move in knowing that in all probability, whatever care that may be needed in the years to come can be had right within the Legacy at Willow Bend community. “That’s peace of mind,” says Ellentuck.

“A big part of what we offer is certainty,” adds Charles B. Brewer, president and CEO of Senior Quality Lifestyles Corporation, the developer of The Stayton at Museum Way in Fort Worth, Texas. Slated to open in 2011, The Stayton at Museum Way is another life-care-themed community that aims to offer enhanced levels of care as residents need it. Call that the Baby Boomer paradox: They want all the health-related options of a life-care community, but they also want the fine dining, culture, and activities of a five-star resort. In all probability, they won’t settle for less, and that is precisely why these new-style retirement communities are becoming ever more appealing.