When it comes to retiree-based development, the idea that “if you build it, they will come” might not be too far from reality.
Ranging from a 134-apartment retirement resort in Evans to a 42,000-square-foot memory-loss facility in Augusta, the metro area will gain several new senior-focused developments this year.
Industry experts aren’t worried that the market will be flooded any time soon.
In fact, with more baby boomers coming into retirement age, they say the trend is likely just beginning.
“I think that we’re into the beginning of the next up-cycle, and it’s going to be a big up-cycle,” said Jeff Humphreys, the director of the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. “The transition point was probably 2014, and I think retiree-based economic development is going to be a huge secular trend that’s going to be pushing the economy forward through about 2025 or so.”
After stalling from 2007 to 2013, senior living developments started to climb upward last year, Humphreys said.
He said that although investors and banks of such projects are still standing slightly on the sideline, a thawing housing market will allow more seniors to sell their homes and relocate to residential environments that better suit their lifestyles.
At Marshall Square retirement community, a $27 million “all-inclusive” apartment complex for people 55 and older, 40 percent of the 134 units have been filled or reserved, said Kelly Jo Hinrichs, the marketing director for Resort Lifestyle Communities, the Nebraska-based company that developed the project.
The center will become the area’s newest senior living development when it opens Jan. 22.
Hinrichs said Resort Lifestyle looks at several factors, including demographic trends and economic indicators, before deciding to build in a particular area.
“We also weigh in the communities that we know are viable and have regard for residential and commercial growth,” she said.
The new Evans community includes on-site dining, exercise facilities, a bank, pharmacy and 150-seat theater.
All amenities are included in the rent, which costs between $2,500 and $4,500 monthly based on the floor plan.
Resort Lifestyle operates 10 retirement communities across the country, with three more opening this summer and several projects breaking ground in 2016.
“We’re in a growth mode, so as we work toward growth, we’re confident in what we do,” Hinrichs said. “It’s not that we don’t pay attention to our competitors, but we really more stay focused on what we do and provide the best we can provide.”
Other recent additions in Evans are Camellia Walk, a 65,000-square-foot assisted living facility on Evans to Locks Road, and Madison Heights, a memory care center on Knob Hill Farm Road.
Across the Columbia County line, in Augusta, work continues on a 44,000-square-foot health and rehabilitation center on Pleasant Home Road and a 42,000-square-foot senior living apartment community near Doctors Hospital.
Both are expected to open this year.
THOUGH IT MIGHT seem like an abundance of senior-based developments moving into the area, the opposite is true, at least on a statewide level, Humphreys said.
“The state is not overdeveloped,” he said. “If anything, I think we’re going to see some catch-up in terms of building product to suit the needs of retirees. I think we’ve sort of underbuilt since 2007.”
Allen LaFavor, the development services vice president for Cornerstone Senior Living, said Augusta is no exception.
Augusta-based Cornerstone Senior Living, established in 1985 under a different name, provides planning, development, marketing and management consulting services to the senior living industry.
The company has developed continuing care retirement communities in South Carolina and Georgia, including Brandon Wilde in Evans.
LaFavor said he believes the senior living market is underbuilt in Augusta and foresees a bump in construction of these facilities on the horizon.
“I think it’s that way pretty much across the United States,” LaFavor said. “And the reason for that is all of the baby boomers that are reaching retirement age. They didn’t build to anticipate that, and now there are waiting lists in a lot of places.”
Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center estimates that an average 10,000 baby boomers each day will turn 65 for the next 15 years. The first wave of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, turned 65 in 2011.
By 2029, all of the country’s baby boomers, more than 60 million people, will have reached 65, based on an analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 20 percent of the total U.S. population will be composed of those ages 65 and older.
Local retirement facilities such as Brandon Wilde are full, serving Augusta natives and seniors who moved from across the country.
Of the nearly 250 independent-living apartments and cottages on the 112-acre campus in Evans, the occupancy rate is at 96 percent, said Brandon Wilde’s marketing director, Kathy Marks.
“I have a number of young people on waiting lists for cottages,” she said. “Their thought is they’re going to be here in 20 to 25 years. They’re making a decision while they can make it.”
The upscale community, which recently added a 25-suite dementia center, also includes skilled nursing care for its residents, if they should need it.
Residents pay an entry fee starting at $100,000 and then a monthly charge that covers rent, utilities and maintenance, an array of amenities and continuing care.
HUMPHREYS AND HIS colleagues at the Selig Center conducted a study in 2013 that evaluates retiree-based economic development in the Peach State.
The report found that there are about a million retirees in Georgia and showed that in an average year, nearly 16,000 people age 65 and older move into the state.
The study listed Georgia’s climate, natural amenities, tax structure and low cost of living as incentives for attracting retirees.
The study also broke down which counties appealed most to retirees.
McDuffie County was listed among the 15 Georgia counties with the highest overall retiree attraction rates. Columbia County was portrayed as a retiree magnet that does a better-than-average job of attracting retirees, while Richmond County was found as doing a below-average job of attracting retirees.
The index used to measure how appealing counties are to retirees takes the number of residents 65 and older who moved to the county as a percentage of that county’s total population. That number is compared with the same ratio estimated for the U.S.
Augusta-Richmond County Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson said she created a new zoning district last year that will aid senior-centered projects.
The new district, similar to one she had at her last job in Raleigh, N.C., encourages a “village-type concept” that consists of different housing types on the same parcel.
Though the district is open to all types of development – not just senior – Wilson said that more retirees prefer to age in place. This would give them the option of moving or downsizing in the same community.
“There will be a growing need to have some diversity in quality of housing,” Wilson said. “I can’t stress that enough. It’s quality. Because some of these baby boomers have lots of money. They want to be in a place where they don’t have as much responsibility, but they still want it to be nice.”
Augusta also became the state’s second city behind Macon last year to become an AARP “Age-Friendly” community, Wilson said.
The designation means AARP will help a community formulate a course of action to better suit seniors’ needs, whether transportation, health, nutrition, housing or communication.
Wilson said she is beginning to see multifamily developers include units for seniors in their projects. She said seniors now want high-quality amenities, much like new residents moving to Augusta for the Army Cyber Command.
“Those are also some of the amenities that the baby boomers want as well,” Wilson said. “You have people that are selling their homes and moving into apartments because they want to have some flexibility to travel and to do other things and not have to deal with the responsibility or maintenance.”
HUMPHREYS SAID THAT smaller markets such as Augusta do face a risk of becoming oversaturated if too many developers pursue the same opportunity in a short period of time.
But the Augusta market has a lot of potential in its lakefront property and vast medical community to attract retirees, he said.
“There’s not a lot of speculative building going on, very little,” he said. “A lot of developments are building out slowly. They’re playing it safe and making sure they don’t get ahead of the market.
He emphasized the need to provide a mix of housing types and prices for seniors.
St. John Towers in downtown Augusta provides housing to low- and moderate-income seniors. The nonprofit, operated by Atlanta-based Wesley Woods Senior Living, opened in 1974.
Administrator Greg Capers said that occupancy at the 264-unit building remains at about 96 percent.
Capers said that with another wave of baby boomers approaching 65, the plethora of new senior living communities opening across the area do not concern him for the future of St. John Towers.
Capers said he is worried, however, that the future housing will be out of the price range of many seniors.
“They recognize the need and they see the market growth,” Capers said of developers. “However, most of those facilities are targeting people who can afford their rents. I can tell you there’s going to be a serious shortage of affordable housing in just a few years.”