Touchmark, Canterbury Woods Pursue Trendsetting Senior Living Projects

As the baby boomer generation ages, demand for senior living is set to soar — and consumer expectations will also rise. Forward-thinking providers are already trying to meet the market by pursuing innovative building projects, with Touchmark and Canterbury Woods being two examples.

“We’re trying to think of things outside the box and … keep pace with what we think is an increasingly sophisticated market,” Touchmark CEO Marcus Breuer told Senior Housing News.

Beaverton, Oregon-based Touchmark is planning to build its first active adult development on 85 acres in Portland, Oregon, which will include for-sale homes alongside the company’s well-established independent living, assisted living and memory care rental offerings. Touchmark is also using a portion of the land for a vineyard and winery, complete with event space, tasting room and restaurants. And the company is also building its first location in Texas — an 80-acre development on Emerald Lake in McKinney, about 45 miles north of Dallas, with a complement of features to appeal to the next-gen resident. 

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Meanwhile, continuing care retirement community (CCRC) Canterbury Woods is planning to build a 250-seat performing arts center on its campus just outside Buffalo, in Williamsville, New York. The performing arts center is meant to book a wide variety of acts and be a venue for the community at large — not just an amenity for Canterbury Woods residents. The project comes on the heels of Canterbury Woods building a new urban location in Buffalo proper, on the site of a former hospital.

These projects exemplify and add momentum to several senior living trends, including the rise of active adult, the growing popularity of urban locations, and the desire for a more intergenerational experience.

Growing in new directions

The first phase of the McKinney community is slated to open in 2022, making this the 14th community for Touchmark, which is a vertically integrated, privately held developer and operator.

All the Touchmark communities are similar in scope to the Texas project, offering various levels of care and housing options, such as cottage homes and villas as well as congregate buildings with independent living, assisted living and memory care. Touchmark also owns and operates a home health business in some of its markets.

Touchmark communities are not CCRCs, however — they generally do not have a skilled nursing component, and there is no life care guarantee or entrance fee. However, Touchmark does offer a refundable deposit plan, in which an independent living resident can deposit a certain amount up front and in exchange pay a reduced monthly rent. For instance, a resident might put down $400,000 and pay $2,000 less in rent each month than someone who did not make the deposit, Breuer said, using hypothetical numbers.

This system provides a guaranteed, tax-free rate of return that many residents find appealing, he said, noting that the deposit refund is made when the unit is re-sold, not when the resident moves out. This simplifies the financials for Touchmark, which does not have to keep deposits in escrow.

“When you move out, the next [person] comes in and you get 85% back of the amount paid,” he said.

Touchmark has built up its portfolio by targeting smaller and mid-sized cities with populations roughly between 100,000 and 750,000 people, and bringing an offering at the top end of these markets. This approach helps Touchmark in attracting both residents and staff, as it gains a reputation and becomes the aspirational place to live or work, Breuer said.

A handful of Touchmark communities are located within active adult retirement communities that were developed by other organizations. For instance, Touchmark at Fairway Village is located within Fairway Village, a retirement community of 696 detached homes and 128 condos in Vancouver, Washington.

Arrangements like these have been successful, as Touchmark becomes the obvious choice for active adult residents who want to downsize from their detached home or who develop more care needs, Breuer said.

This success motivated Touchmark to go all-in and develop an entire active adult project itself, on the 85 acres in Portland, which will include a Touchmark campus as well as about 700 for-sale homes, in a mix of condo towers and standalone dwellings, Breuer said. The sales and information center is currently under construction.

Portions of the land are hilly and not suitable for building, so Touchmark explored alternative uses. The company brought in a well-known winemaker in the region who said that the soil would be perfect for pinot noir. After further analysis, Touchmark concluded that creating a vineyard would be more cost-effective than doing traditional landscaping, Breuer said, and plans have been moving ahead.

“It’s a really unique way to expose people to our site and project, where people are really having a good time,” Breuer said, of the winery and event center under construction.

While the vineyard and winery promise to attract people of all ages, Touchmark has always tried to bring non-residents onto its campuses. For instance, it extends memberships to its fitness centers to the general public, appealing to older adults specifically. Having 600 to 1,000 dues-paying fitness center members is a reasonable goal for any given location, Breuer said.

The fees sometimes produce a small amount of meaningful revenue but the memberships are mainly viewed as a way to increase awareness of Touchmark to future residents.

While Touchmark is making concerted efforts to innovate and meet the next generation of senior living residents, the company also has enjoyed some strokes of luck. After Touchmark bought the site in McKinney, the PGA announced it would move its headquarters just down the road and build two championship golf courses to host a number of high-profile events in the coming years, including 2 PGA Championships and the Ryder Cup.

“That was a pleasant and awesome surprise,” Breuer said.

Evolving toward the boomers

One of the few entrance-fee CCRCs in the state of New York, Canterbury Woods has been around since the 1860s — but it is moving swiftly into the new era for senior living. Like Touchmark, a key goal is creating a more intergenerational environment.

“The challenge for all CCRCs going forward is, how are the communities going to continue to entice people to move into a community setting?” Canterbury Woods President, CEO and Executive Director Rob Wallace told SHN. “ … It’s paramount for retirement communities to invite the greater community in.”

To that end, Canterbury Woods evaluated the thriving arts and theater scene in the Buffalo area — as well as the number of residents who had careers in the arts — and decided to explore the possibility of building a large, professional-caliber performing arts center on its 62-acre campus.

The Canterbury Woods leadership consulted with theater organizations in Buffalo and got “tremendous positive feedback,” while booking agents told Canterbury Woods that they should have no trouble filling the center several days a week, all year round. 

Rendering of Canterbury Woods' Andy Anselmo Performing Arts Center

Canterbury Woods now is in talks with a local theater company about making the performing arts center their home once it opens, Wallace said. The goal is to break ground by the middle of next year. Canterbury Woods is still determining whether to manage the theater or subcontract that, and is not anticipating meaningful revenue from ticket sales. Rather, the benefit will come from drawing more people to the campus, raising awareness of Canterbury Woods among potential future residents while enriching the lives of those who currently live there.

Wallace declined to share a specific budget for the project but said that it will cost several million dollars and will be entirely privately funded, so that Canterbury Woods will not add any debt. One large contribution has come from Canterbury Woods resident Andy Anselmo, who performed on Broadway and taught voice to such luminaries as Tony Bennett and Liza Minnelli. The performing arts center will be named after him.

Canterbury Woods is undertaking this project just after an even more ambitious undertaking — expanding into Buffalo proper by creating a 50-unit, $43 million senior living building on a site that used to be occupied by Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital.

Canterbury Woods demolished the former hospital building in 2014 and began constructing the six-story senior living building, which opened in Oct. 2017.

Initially, the plan was to have the building be entirely dedicated to independent living, but after focus groups, five assisted living units were added, Wallace said. There is still guaranteed care for residents; those who need rehab or skilled nursing can receive that at the Williamsville campus, just eight miles away. Transportation between the two sites is arranged every day of the week, and Canterbury Woods also has a partnership with Lyft for on-demand rides.

Gates Circle is an upscale and highly amenitized building, but the appeal for residents is the urban location rather than the full resort-style living of the larger campus, Wallace said. For example, there is no pool at Gates Circle, although there are arrangements with area organizations for residents who want to swim. Gates Circle residents can also take advantage of all the amenities at the Williamsville campus.

“We know that there’s a movement toward people really wanting to be in urban areas,” Wallace said. “It’s not just young people but older people who are vibrant and who have been living in their home cities for decades.”

Gates Circle is on track to fill up by next year, he said. He also noted that Canterbury Woods is in a strong financial position, carrying only about $8 million in total debt despite the building projects. And he’s continuing the evaluate further changes, as he believes all senior living providers should be doing.

“We’re evolving toward the boomers,” he said. “As retirement community providers, we need to continue to challenge ourselves.”

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