Best of Independent Living Design 2013: The Resort Style

Allegro012-e1390862227366Allegro Senior Living’s Jupiter, Florida senior living community, Allegro, scored top honors in the first-ever Senior Housing News Architecture and Design Awards.

With its resort-like amenities and Mediterranean-style exterior, the rental community wowed judges and took home first place in the New Construction – Independent Living category. A key selling point was Allegro’s community integration and involvement with a local university that promotes socialization and intergenerational learning for both residents and students.

“Beyond their homage to local architecture, Allegro has gone above and beyond to assimilate physically and socially into their immediate neighborhood, leveraging among other things on-campus entertainment venues, and alluring dining opportunities,” says David Dillard, FAIA, president of D2 Architecture and one of the SHN Design Awards judges. “I’ll bet if you survey the average age of all people on campus on a typical Saturday morning, it would be dramatically under the average age of actual residents who call Allegro home.”

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Although the community has ultimately been a success for Allegro Senior Living, the project—from its concept to construction and eventual lease-up—presented challenges along the way, with hurdles that included meeting local zoning requirements and finding funding during the worst of the economic downturn.

The Concept

While Allegro Senior Living has been involved in the senior living industry for nearly its entire existence, its development activity in the space has come in waves, the first of which took place in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

Starting in the late 90s and early 2000s, Allegro Senior Living began bringing in more of a flavor of current senior living trends into its developments, says Richard Miller, Chief Development Officer at Allegro Senior Living.

“It was less of a medical model and more of a social model, in our view,” he says.

The first generation of Allegro’s current brand concept is built around an activity core, with wings that contain independent living, assisted living, and memory care units. That’s how Allegro was designed, with the center of the building containing common spaces and activity areas that centrally connect all the wings, including the award-winning independent living wing.

“The energy created in the core keeps everyone in an active lifestyle,” Miller explains.

Because around 65% of residents typically are from within five miles of their community, according to Miller, demographics are a huge factor when choosing a site. Allegro Senior Living carefully chooses a market that closely fits its demographic profile for both age and income level—typically 80+ for seniors, the primary target market, and adult children aged 45-64 as a secondary target market.

While Allegro Senior Living follows a basic design concept for all its new communities, the town of Abacoa, a residential planned community in Jupiter, also influenced Allegro’s design, including its Mediterranean-style exterior and the building’s location closer to the streets and neighborhood at large.

“Abacoa had its own set of design goals, including a new urbanism concept, that we layered into the entire 2,000 acre development,” Miller says. “We adapted to the town of Jupiter’s requirements, although it didn’t drive our project that far off of what we wanted.”

Because of the need to adhere to Abacoa plan requirements, Allegro had to shorten the community’s wings somewhat, which necessitated placing some of those units into the core of the building—which Miller says ended up being better at the end.

“People who didn’t want to be down a long corridor had the option of being right in the middle of all the activity,” he says.

The Construction

Before projects can move from planning and entitlements to breaking ground, developers need to having financing lined up. But that’s where Allegro Senior Living encountered some difficulty.

“With the Jupiter community, we ran right into the middle of the financial collapse in 2009 and 2010,” says Miller. “We were ready to go with our typical model of bank debt with our equity, but banks were reluctant to commit, especially in Florida, so we lost about 6-8 months until we got a commitment.”

There were “very few players” in Florida that were in the market for new construction lending at that time, he says, and it took a while to get their attention—but eventually they did, and development moved forward.

While Miller would not disclose the cost of developing Allegro, he did say the project ended up coming in under budget, despite challenges associated with construction in Southern Florida.

Allegro Senior Living communities typically have around 150 units, with the floor design for Allegro coming in with slightly less, at 145. The community is comprised of 79 independent living apartments, 42 assisted living apartments, and 24 memory care apartments.

“What stood out [about Allegro] were the design and aesthetics on the exterior as well as interior atrium and dining areas—it’s like you are at a private resort,” says SHN Design Awards judge Raquel Mercer, vice president at Robycross, a company that specializes in retirement community and healthcare renovation.

Interior features include multiple dining venues, such as a bistro, casual dining room, Grand Theater, card room, game room, billiards room, sundries store, business center, TV lounge, wellness center, salon and spa, library, and community room.

Allegro’s extensive grounds include a putting green, swimming pool, fountain, and memory care courtyard.

A special feature of the community includes independent and assisted living apartments that are almost exactly the same, praised by judges during the SHN Design Awards.

“Whether you’re in the independent living wing or the assisted living wing, everything feels the same, except that kitchens in assisted living don’t have a stove or dishwasher,” says Miller. “You walk into an independent or assisted living unit, and unless you’re looking for that difference, they feel exactly the same.”

“I appreciate the audacity, the outlier approach of essentially matching the independent living and assisted living units,” commented Dillard. “If it works, and by early accounts it is, then note to the industry: It’s time to rethink assisted living altogether!”

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Completion

Allegro at Jupiter was about 80% pre-leased before the building even opened, according to Miller. After officially opening in September 2012, the community quickly leased up, with current occupancy hovering around 98%.

Monthly rates for the community fall within the industry standard for rental independent living units, which range between $3,000-$5,000 depending on market location and the apartment.

“The building really sells itself, but we also have a sales and marketing team we bring on a year before [communities open] so they can spend time at our other operating properties and pick up the culture of who we are and what we deliver,” says Miller.

An integral part of what Allegro Senior Living delivers is lifestyle, he adds.

“We’re in the business of providing a lifestyle to seniors. That lifestyle is, in part, the buildings we build; the nice landscaping; the staff and training and ongoing training,” Miller says. “The driving force here is we’re continuing to evolve in reaction to what we’re seeing in the senior population as new residents arrive from a different point in life.”

Allegro has an intentional location within Abacoa, not only by virtue of the walkways and courtyards that join with the surrounding neighborhood, but also through a partnership with the Lifelong Learning Society at Florida Atlantic University.

“It’s a wonderful connection both in terms of our seniors attending classes at the local branch of Florida Atlantic University and having some of the lectures hosted in our Grand Theater,” Miller says.

Another nearby attraction: the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training camp, which takes place around a mile and a half away, allowing residents to attend practices and games.

At the end of the day, Miller says Allegro Senior Living’s hospitality model is the company’s—and Allegro’s—selling point.

“Anyone can build a nice building, but an equal part of this is staff, and staff training. Picking the right profile of staff who really love the business and want to satisfy these residents and are capable of delivering in a way that’s appropriate is important,” he says. “I think that’s been the key to our success and continues to be the key.”

In the coming weeks, Senior Housing News will profile each winner from the 2013 SHN Design Awards. View the winners here.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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