Decades ago, shopping malls were the place for teenagers to shop for records, grab a slice of pizza or just hang out with friends, but that is so last century. Many of those older structures now are greeting their old friends, who are much older, with a new purpose as senior housing.

The idea of turning old malls into congregate living settings is not entirely new. In 2020, for example, Passero Associates transformed an Irondequoit, NY, mall into an age-restricted apartment building for adults aged 55 or more years.

One Chicago-area developer is so keen on the idea that it has two mall repurposing projects underway for senior housing. Northbrook, IL-based SAS Architects & Planners, which specializes in senior living architecture, is developing senior living communities at Fox Valley in Aurora, IL, and at Hawthorn in Vernon Hills, IL. Both communities are expected to open in 2024.

The Fox Valley community will include 212 units of age-restricted independent living, assisted living and memory care. The luxury senior living community will include a cocktail lounge and multiple gourmet dining venues, a fitness center and outdoor amenity spaces such as al fresco dining and casual patio areas, a dog park, pickleball courts and a splash pad. 

The Hawthorn community will include162 age-restricted independent living, assisted living and memory care units. The community will provide concierge living services with a la carte pricing options including activities and social clubs, weekly housekeeping, transportation, therapy services, a health and wellness program, a fitness center and dining in multiple venues. 

“One of the main challenges [in converting malls to senior living] is working with local governments and planning boards to amend the prevailing zoning regulations and allow for senior living communities to be integrated into the fabric of a mall redevelopment,” SAS Principal James T. Moyer told Forbes. “Communities often don’t look favorably on traditional senior housing, let alone in a once-successful shopping environment.”