Daily Memphian article - June 11, 2020
Avenida’s plan for active seniors: No food service, no medical care, lots of fun
By Tom Bailey
Construction crews at Avenida Watermarq at Germantown on Wednesday, June 10, laid brick pavers in front, poured a concrete patio overlooking Nashoba Lake in back and mudded drywall inside. But it’s the spaces they are not building that may distinguish this senior-living community when it opens early this fall at 7900 Wolf River in Germantown. The $40 million, 161-unit apartment development will offer neither a dining room nor medical-related rooms or services. Yes, the four-story complex is designed strictly for older adults. Tenants are required to be at least 55 years old. But all seniors are hardly in the same stage of life.
Developer Avenida Partners tailors its communities to a subset of older adults. The ones who are still healthy and mobile, who live in an empty nest that is too large or too hard to maintain, who live in a neighborhood now devoid of their long-time friends, and who might even be a bit lonely and in need of a healthier, more social environment. “Active adult rentals” is the name of the segment, said Robert D. “Bob” May, founder and managing partner of the California-based company. May considers his seven communities across the nation, including one near Nashville in Franklin, as a blend of the multifamily and hospitality sectors.
“I say ‘hospitality’ because we have no medical staff, nobody walking around in scrubs. Our staff is hospitality oriented to ensure a maintenance-free, carefree, fun lifestyle is executed like at a boutique hotel,” he said.
In fact, he said, the staff training is modeled after the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel program. “Anybody who is an employee, whether the executive director or the maintenance person, knows that when they get within 10 feet of any resident they look them in the eye and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ ”
Amenities include a bistro, private dining room, fitness/yoga room, creative arts center, theater, club room, lawn sports, dog park and community gardens. A hair salon is not among the luxuries. Most healthy, active seniors prefer to keep their own stylist and will continue to drive to them, just like they drive themselves to church, friends’ homes, restaurants, ball games, movie theaters or the golf course. May anticipates that residents will start moving into Avenida Watermarq at Germantown by October. So far, 32 people have pre-leased units with a $1,000 deposit.
Many of these “Founders Club” members have met each other because the social activities have already begun. “We did a chocolate and wine pairing,” said Avenida Watermarq executive director Ellen Baker. “We’ve been to GPAC (Germantown Performing Arts Center). We’ve had dinners out at Moondance (Grill). We get the group together so they know each other. So when they move in they already have 35 to 40 friends.”
Monthly rental rates range from $1,870 for a 782-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath unit to $2,810 for a 1,341-square-foot two-bed, two-bath unit. A $200 monthly service fee is charged for a second person in an apartment. It covers use of the amenity spaces, daily continental breakfast, any scheduled transportation, daytime concierge service, and what Avenida Partners calls the “Five to Thrive Resident Enrichment Program.”
Avenida’s “five key areas of healthy aging” are life activity, material security, physical and functional fitness, cognitive efficacy and social resources. Each day, residents can participate in at least eight programmed activities. A daily schedule example might be: 7:30 a.m., coffee, news & friends; 8:30, Trail Blazers Walking Club; 9:30, tai chi; 10:30, tech time; 1:30 p.m., aqua fitness; 2:30, creative writing; 3:30, multimedia art; 5, Wine Down Wednesday-social & entertainment; and 7, The Great Courses — The American West History: Myth and Legend.
The community has a resident enrichment director. “His or her sole job is to understand every resident, what the likes and interests are of each resident,” May said. “Spend time with them before or just after they move in with an in-depth questionnaire. What is it they like to do?” May described himself as a lifelong builder/developer who always preferred the residential sector and who, after the Great Recession, took stock of the type of residential development he should pursue in the future. His decision was informed by the frustrating experience of finding a senior-living community for his 85-year-old mother.
“They were terrible,” he said of the stops on the tour he and his mother took. “There was no life. She challenged me. She said, ‘Bobby, you can do better than this.’” He became convinced that the senior housing and independent living industry was focused on a medical model. “What I saw was a need for the healthiest and youngest segment of seniors to have a place to live where it was all about experiencing all those good things,” May said.
“It’s a cruise ship on land. Resort living. I saw a need that wasn’t medically oriented. It was about coming together, about the connectivity of community. To be around people like yourself with shared values. “They all raised families. There wasn’t an appropriate next stage after they’d raised their families,” May said.
May’s research into aging showed him that seniors’ biggest fear is not dying. “It’s outliving their savings, or losing their independence where they have to be reliant on someone else.” May acknowledged that Avenida Watermarq’s rental rates are not inexpensive, but said the building and grounds are rich with amenities and programming. The rates are “a manageable monthly expense” considering all the residents receive, he said. Avenida Watermarq can deliver resort-style living for reasonable prices in part because it is not burdened by a large dining operation, he indicated.
“What we identified was, this food service component was incredibly expensive to deliver,” May said. Besides, he said, “when relatives visit in a senior-living community, the first thing residents want to do is go out to lunch somewhere else because the food starts to taste like a cafeteria.”
In developing his concept, May recalled thinking that eliminating food and medical services could be a great combination for marketing to healthy, active seniors. “It has turned out that way,” he said. The average age of residents arriving at Avenida communities is 72 to 74, May said. Often, they are able to remain residents until reaching about 85 years old. The average age when seniors enter independent-living communities, which provide meals, medical support and housekeeping, is 84, he said. “So for 10 years, if we treat our residents right, we will be the right fit for them,” May said. “Until they have to go to a home with a little more care.”
There’s a standard for when residents must leave an active-adult rental community like Avenida Watermarq. “Our lease agreement says you have to be able to evacuate the building in an emergency by yourself,” May said.
Houses are Avenida’s main competition, said Baker, the executive director. The houses active seniors must decide whether to keep residing in or to sell. Sixty-five percent of Avenida residents move from the house they just sold. Other senior-living communities in the Memphis area should have no fear of competition from Avenida, May said. “I don’t think we have any competitors,” he said. “I’m only building 161 of these apartment homes. If somebody else came into Germantown and said, 'I’m going to do another 160 just like Bob,’ I wouldn’t be afraid because I know there’s a demand.” By 2022, about 91,000 people who are at least 65 years old will be living within 10 miles of Avenida, he said.