Special Reports

March 1, 2014

Senior housing projects cater to a ‘new generation’ of consumers

These days, senior residential housing isn’t like your grandma’s nursing home.

These days, senior residential housing isn’t like your grandma’s nursing home.

Baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – have created a market for more senior residential housing across the country, developers and senior care officials say, and Wichita is no different.

In the last couple of years, several new construction projects have popped up in the area, from patio homes to assisted living, to keep up with demand.

But some think the Wichita market may now be saturated for certain types of senior residences, like assisted living.

“I think we’ll see development slow down in Sedgwick County,” said Matthew Bogner, CEO of the Kansas Masonic Home, which is currently undergoing part of a $22 million renovation.

“In any county, there’s only so much development the market can withstand, and I really believe we’re at that point, or beyond that point really,” with assisted living.

Part of the perceived boom in senior housing in the last couple of years is because the entire country is emerging from a period during which the real estate market was fairly bottled up, said Reginald Hislop, CEO of Larksfield Place.

“There were a number of projects that were on the board eight years ago, for example, that simply went onto the shelf as a result of the recession,” he said. “Now, there are a lot of new projects being put back in due to the changing economy.”

“If we hadn’t had a downturn, we would have seen more steady development throughout those years,” said Jason Wiley, chief creative officer and co-founder of Oxford Senior Living Community, which recently opened the Oxford Grand with assisted living and memory care near NewMarket Square. “Now, capital markets are back, interest rates are low, and people are interested in investing. It’s all pointing toward producing enough product to meet demand out there.”

Saturation in the market means facilities and communities will need to distinguish themselves – through renovations, services or amenities.

“You have to raise your game, and I think that is a good thing for the market,” Bogner said.

New places and those investing in renovations offer features like granite counter tops, the latest tech gadgets and restaurant-quality dining.

“People don’t want to feel like they’re in a retirement community, but that they’re in a resort or something upscale. Not institutional,” Bogner said.

Recent developments

The average age of assisted living residents is early 80s, Wiley says, which means there will be a lag of several years for the oldest of the boomers to need assisted living. The Wichita market has likely met demand in that area.

The master plan for Oxford’s NewMarket site also originally included independent living, but Oxford is still in the planning and design phases for that, Wiley said. He said Oxford is looking at developing communities in Texas and Oklahoma.

“While Wichita is a hotbed for developing senior housing, they have senior housing in other parts of the country as well. We’re looking at what they’re doing in other states to bring concepts that we haven’t seen yet here,” Wiley said.

Presbyterian Manor of Wichita is undergoing a $35 million project that will include 48 assisted living apartments, 24 assisted living memory care suites, 50 skilled nursing apartments and 90 independent living apartment homes, which will be completed in phases through the fall of 2015.

The project will also include a new chapel, dining options, a pub, library, gift shop, concierge services, swimming pool and fitness center.

“In looking at this from a numbers point of view, we wanted to have the kind of community that the new generation coming in was wanting,” said Mark Schulte, executive director of Wichita Presbyterian Manor.

“We’re looking at where the market is going. It’s a different consumer than it was when this place was built, and people want more amenities and services. They’re a younger, more active senior when they come to senior communities than they were 40 years ago.”

Larksfield Place is remodeling its health care center. Although there aren’t currently plans for additional housing, Hislop said it would likely add independent living units to the property if expansion plans are down the road. The units could include detached housing, like patio homes.

“It’s not necessarily a matter of, ‘Are there enough old people?’ but ‘Are there enough old people with resources and confidence to move?’ ” Hislop said. “The economy is better than it has been, but this isn’t a heyday. … People aren’t seeing a lot of income growth or wealth growth. Pensions and Social Security aren’t like they were 10 years ago.”

“If you look at how people are aging and transitioning, the patio home is really an intermediate step. It’s the first step folks seem to be more willing to take to downsize from their principal residence if they’re not yet ready for apartment-style assisted living. There’s still a chance to catch a slice of that market.”

In 2016, the Kansas Masonic Home will likely start another project for independent living on its campus, Bogner said.

That project would be outside the scope of the $22 million in planned renovations the home has already started, which include renovations of the assisted living manor.

Last year, the home completed a 20-room, $4 million Rapid Recovery Suite project for short-term therapy patients.

When looking for a senior residence, Hislop encourages people to evaluate how many health care services they think they’ll need, as well as the location, history, stability and reputation of the facility.

Oxford’s Wiley suggests people make unannounced visits to the facility, especially at meal times, to see how people are treated and to evaluate the food service.

Prospective tenants and their families also need to identify those things that they’re passionate about, Presbyterian Manor’s Schulte said.

“What, as I move into this new community and away from the home I’ve lived in for however long, are non-negotiables for me? Make sure … the amenities are going to support that.”

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