Plans Take Shape for Senior Living in ‘Disneyland for Football’

A much buzzed-about retirement community for former NFL players officially has an operator—and more of a game plan.

That community, Legends Landing, will include 143 beds for independent living, assisted living and memory care. San Antonio’s Franklin Companies, owner and manager of seven senior living properties in Texas under the Franklin Park brand, will operate the community, which is estimated to cost between $50 million and $60 million to build.

Situated within a Pro Football Hall of Fame complex billed as a “Disneyland for football,” the community will have access to a number of pro football-themed amenities—though it is not officially actually affiliated with the NFL.

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And, naturally, given the stature of pro athletes, the furniture is “going to be a little bit bigger, a little bit sturdier” than is typical, David Baker, President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, tells Senior Housing News.

‘Disneyland for football’

Legends Landing is the latest in a series of themed communities—like a Disney-inspired project in Celebration, Florida, or Margaritaville-branded retirement living—that are becoming more common in the senior living industry.

Senior living providers that wholeheartedly embrace sports organizations are not as common, however.

One such partnership occurred when the NFL Alumni Association in 2015 gave its seal of approval for Validus Senior Living to provide care to former players diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. And earlier this month, the developers of a minor league baseball stadium in Augusta Georgia pledged to include senior housing on the campus.

Legends Landing is part of the roughly $800 million Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village development. Specifically, the community will exist within a “player care center” that is designed to have a 15-bed surgical hospital and a 20-bed behavioral science and addiction center when it opens in 2020.

Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village will include other components such as a museum, sports complexes, a hotel and conference center, a football-themed amusement and water park, restaurants, and retail.

“In some respects, [Legends Landing] will be like living on Main Street at Disneyland,” Baker says.

Some of the perks for residents that Baker and other planners have tossed around include a “John Madden bocce ball court,” a “Sweetness” dessert shop named after late Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, a garage for tinkering with cars, a media lounge for watching football games and a “Legends Lounge,” where players can hang out.

Legends Landing will also offer former football players access to a range of clinical, fitness and wellness services. The community’s memory care wing is inspired by the Hogewey community in The Netherlands, which is designed to look and operate like a village from a bygone era.

Industry Realty Group, a California-based real estate development and investment firm that manages more than 120 properties in 28 states, is developing Legends Landing, and Dallas-based HKS Architects—the firm behind several NFL football stadiums—is designing it.

Baker, who for 12 years served as the commissioner of the arena football league, is no stranger to senior housing, either. From 2009 to 2014, Baker served as managing partner for Union Village, a sprawling $1.3 billion mixed-use and senior community in Henderson, Nevada.

Aging ‘heroes of the game’

When it opens, Legends Landing will serve as a place to “honor heroes of the game… in their twilight years,” Baker says.

“Football is literally about huddling up together, about getting on the same page and saying that the strongest of us is going to help the weakest of us,” he adds.

Though Legends Landing is still in its early stages, some aging NFL stars have already expressed interest in moving into the community, Baker says.

The community will likely take residents on a priority system: Hall of Famers and their spouses first, retired players and their spouses second, then coaches, officials or staffers and their spouses—though “we might have to get a separate facility for officials,” Baker jokes.

If there’s still room left over, members of the public could also apply to live there. The end goal is not to exclude anyone, but instead to foster camaraderie among former gridiron competitors.

“They miss that brotherhood, that fraternity, that love that they used to feel in the locker room,” Baker says. “This is an opportunity for guys late in life to return to that locker room.”

Not all is well among former NFL players, however. There is recent evidence that longer football careers could be linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a kind of degenerative brain condition that can cause mood swings, personality changes, headaches and dementia.

Of course, diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s aren’t limited to people who played in the NFL— and Baker says many of the older players he’s worked with aren’t sicker or more debilitated than other older adults.

“Most of these guys are dying in their late 80s or 90s, so they’re not going early like [some] seem to think because of the media,” Baker explains. “For the most part, these guys that are an older age are really healthy.”

If all goes according to plan, the community and surrounding Hall of Fame village would open in time for the NFL’s 100th anniversary in 2020.

“The Hall of Fame should be about excellence,” Baker says. “And if we’re going to do this, we want it to be the best of the world.”

Written by Tim Regan

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