A surge in senior living projects in the area has some in the industry wondering if there will be enough seniors to fill the planned units.
More than half a dozen senior living projects — comprising stand-alone or a combination of independent, assisted-living and memory care units — are being constructed or planned in the Wichita area.
Some developers are enticed by projections around baby boomer retirements and how seniors in the next decade or two will account for a significant portion of the nation's population.
But the flurry in area senior-living projects is creating worry among some developers that it will lead to too much capacity and higher vacancies.
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"I'm cautious for the Wichita market," said Timothy Buchanan, CEO of Wichita-based Legend Senior Living, which operates the Regent and Park West Plaza in Wichita, as well as senior living complexes in Oklahoma and Florida. "I think the Wichita market is on the verge of being overbuilt."
Within the city limits, Legend is constructing a 66-unit assisted living and memory care complex that also will have a 100-bed skilled nursing facility at 119th West and 29th North. It also is expanding its Regent independent-living facility at 13th and Greenwich to include a 75-apartment assisted-living and memory care residence and a 120-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitative care facility. It is partnering with Foundation Properties on the expansion of the Regent.
Oxford Holdings is planning a $12 million project called Oxford at NewMarket, a 66,000-square-foot assisted living and memory care center on a 40-acre site just north of 29th Street North off Maize Road.
Dallas-based Cypress Springs is building a memory care residence at 1859 N. Webb that the company said is scheduled to open in the fall.
And Larksfield Place, one of the city's oldest continuing care retirement communities, at 2828 N. Governeour, is finishing up construction of an 88,000-square-foot complex, which will have 40 assisted-living units and 32 memory-care units.
Outside of the city, Oxford also is constructing a 24-unit memory care center called the Glenn Carr house in Derby.
And Paul Cavanaugh, owner of Places Architects, is a development partner in Tierra Verde, a proposed 77-acre multifaceted development on north Webb Road near 47th North, part of which calls for independent and assisted living and a skilled nursing facility.
Pat Ayars, Oxford Holdings' president, said his company expects to close on the land acquisition for NewMarket in the next couple of weeks and begin construction in late summer.
Ayars said the decision to develop Oxford at NewMarket was prompted by the fact that until recently, "there has not been a new (senior living) project in west Wichita for some time."
He said his company's intent is to focus on segments of the senior-living market that are underserved.
He doesn't expect Oxford Holdings to pursue additional senior-living projects in the city right now, focusing instead on other locations in the Midwest where "there are pockets of areas that offer opportunity," Ayars said.
"We follow the market," he said.
Legends' Buchanan said his company doesn't have plans for any other Wichita projects, either.
Though Buchanan said he remains concerned about too much senior-living capacity coming on line in the city, he said he thinks his company's newest projects will be successful in attracting new residents.
"We've always been a price leader," he said. "We'll continue to leverage that and our experience in the industry to be the premiere provider. That's going to help bridge us in the future."
Cavanaugh, of Tierra Verde, said a growing elderly population is driving his new project.
"Just the overall demographics," he said.
Tierra Verde's planned senior-living projects, with the exception of a skilled nursing facility, are a ways off.
"Right now, today, we're probably over built, Cavanaugh said. "But in another five to 10 years we'll need more space. So we're kind of building for the avalanche that's coming."
Michael Hargrave, vice president of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry, said Wichita's building boom is generally unique in the industry.
"It varies widely by market, but nationally speaking construction levels in our industry have slowed materially," Hargrave said.
He said the composite number of senior housing units under construction in the nation's 31 largest metros peaked at about 21,000 in first quarter of 2008. In the first three months of 2011, that number had dropped more than half to 9,018, he said.
"The credit crisis... really choked off a lot of financing," Hargrave said. "Second is just the general state of the economy made it such that demand, or move-in rates, have slowed."
Another more recent trend that Hargrave said his industry has seen is the move of developers from the hotel and multi-family sectors into senior housing.
"They are attracted to the sector because of demographic growth prospects and attractive yields," he said.
Just because the baby boomers are hitting the age of 65 doesn't mean they automatically fall into the senior housing demographics.
For instance, Hargrave said the average age of entry into independent living is about 79 or 80. For assisted living, the age of entry is about 83, he said.
"The ones that generally have made the successful transition have really done the homework and understand the nuances of the industry," Hargrave said.