Meeting some seniors' desire for urban living presents challenges, benefits

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An artist's rendering depicts Belmont Village Lincoln Park.
An artist's rendering depicts Belmont Village Lincoln Park.

Senior living companies seeking to offer housing in urban areas can face many obstacles during the site location and building processes, but a payoff comes in addressing the needs of an unserved or underserved market.

And the market for senior living in urban areas appears to be growing.

“People who've lived all their lives in suburban environments may be attracted to the suburbs or the city, but the ones who've been in the city definitely want to stay there,” Belmont Village Senior Living founder and CEO Patricia Will told McKnight's Senior Living.

A recent study by Welltower backs up the notion. Eighty percent of baby boomers who live in large cities want to keep living there after they turn 80 — either in their current homes or someplace nearby, according to the results of the 2017 Aging in Cities survey commissioned by the real estate investment trust.

Belmont Village recently broke ground on its first project in downtown Chicago, one of the cities where some of the survey's 3,000 participants lived.

“What we see in most very large cities in America, including Chicago, is not enough supply relative to the demands,” Will said.

The developer, owner and operator isn't a newcomer to the greater Chicago area, with four of its 26 existing senior living communities in nearby Buffalo Grove, Carol Stream, Glenview and Oak Park, IL, the latter of which Will calls “semi-urban.” Nor is the company a stranger to urban communities, with locations in Berkeley and San Jose, CA, as well as Mexico City.

But its presence in the Windy City itself took some time. “Urban Chicago development has been a goal of ours for many years,” Will said. “The challenge has always been finding the right site.”

The future 120,537-square-foot, seven-story Belmont Village Lincoln Park, which will include 149 assisted living and memory care residences when it opens in summer 2019, is being constructed on the former site of a children's hospital, specifically where housing for nurses and interns used to be. The location, although a good fit for Belmont Village's plans, also came with complexities.

Neighbors had hoped that the 85-year-old building would be repurposed, “but it just wasn't functional for senior living and the standards of health, care and safety that we have to meet,” Will said. Instead, the new building will feature an exterior design reminiscent of its predecessor and even will include salvaged pieces from the original edifice.

Beyond building challenges specific to the site, urban planning in general requires a different approach than in other locations, she said.

“There are a lot of considerations with respect to how the building renders in that you've got a smaller piece of land and you're going up higher,” Will said. “Invariably, you've got a parking garage underneath. So, what you're trying to do is make an urban oasis where you still manage to get within the footprint of the building. You have to be very careful to work with the outdoors within the footprint of the piece of land that you have and then take your entire building program, so to speak, and stack it.”

For those who desire to live in such a setting, however, the results are worth it.

“Our building in Lincoln Park has fabulous views of the Chicago skyline,” Will said.

And because the building's footprint is smaller than a typical senior living community, residents have shorter distances to walk to get various places within the community. “Generally, that works well for them,” she said.

Belmont Village Lincoln Park is an independent building, but it is part of a mixed-use development called Lincoln Common, so residents also will be close to retail shops and restaurants, Will noted. The community even will be connected to Lincoln Common by way of an underground, shared loading dock, which will eliminate surface deliveries and reduce area traffic.

The development, she said, “has a beautiful retail and restaurant component, condominiums and multi-family residential. And I think, for seniors and their families, access to best-in-class mixed-use with those amenities is very, very attractive.”

It's something Belmont Village experienced with its community in San Jose, CA, Will said.

“Our building sits at the end of a complex called Santana Row that is a magnificent mixed-use development,” she said of the California property. “And that proves to be very, very attractive for the seniors and for their families because they can take advantage of the retail, they can take advantage of the restaurants, they can take advantage of the entertainment that goes on.”

And urban living holds additional appeal for residents, Will said.

“The other thing that seniors really love is a sense of vitality and life,” she said. “So, in those environments where you have a lot going on, that's very attractive to the senior population without having to go far to get it.”

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