Former Ford Plant Site to House Massive Mixed-Use Development with Senior Housing

Ryan Companies is forging ahead with one of its biggest projects in recent memory: a sprawling master plan development that would include space for commercial and residential units, including senior housing. Under the developer’s vision, the site would become a livable, walkable neighborhood that could exemplify the future of senior housing and mixed-use development in general.

The Minneapolis-based developer earlier this month unveiled its grand vision for the “Ford Site,” a 122-acre plot of land in St. Paul, Minnesota, that once housed a Ford plant responsible for building the Model T and later the Ranger pickup truck. Ford chose Ryan Companies to redevelop the site earlier this year, in January.

As planned, the Ford Site would include retail, residential, medical and commercial buildings alongside public amenities such as green space, walking and biking trails, baseball fields and a “world-class” central water feature (see rendering above).

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“There’s going to be walkable restaurants, retail stores, medical space, all right there adjacent to you,” Ryan Companies Vice President of Development Eric Anderson told Senior Housing News. “Plus, all the walkability around the site with the lake.”

The project is targeting 3,800 total housing units, 400 of which would be devoted to rentals for seniors. The plans also set aside space for market-rate apartments, affordable housing, row homes, single-family homes and condominiums.

On the senior housing side, the units would likely be divvied up between a traditional senior living and an age-restricted or senior co-op community.

“I would foresee an independent living, assisted living and memory care community first out of the chute. At least 200 units, maybe more,” Anderson said. “The 55-plus community could come close to the same time. That’s not something we develop, so we’ll partner with somebody to do that. We’ve had a couple big players in the space say they want to be part of it.”

For the senior living component, Ryan will likely tap one of its four operating partners: Grand Living, Cadence Senior Living, Life Care Services or Great Lakes Management. But, the developer is leaving the door open to bringing in outside senior living partners due to strong interest from across the industry, Anderson added.

The project would also contain medical office space, where regional health providers could open up shop and potentially offer their services to the neighborhood’s older adults.

“We ask ourselves, both as senior housing and health care developers, how do we find a way to do these together?” Anderson said. “Orthopedics, family care, all those sorts of things, what a great thing to have … a block away from [seniors].”

One possibility being discussed is finding new and creative ways to blur the line between the senior living and health care components, such as letting a medical office tenant use the senior living community’s fitness space.

One Ryan Companies joint-venture partner, SilverCrest Properties, already does something similar at its SilverCreek on Main property in Maple Grove, Minnesota. There, SilverCrest leases its HydroWorx therapy pool to nearby health system Park Nicollet Health Services under a partnership. The strategy at play is that medical systems can partner with senior housing providers to avoid some of the capital expense of building or owning such facilities, and in the process forge closer ties.

“What this will be [at the Ford Site], I do not know, but synergistically it makes all the sense in the world,” Anderson said.

Ryan Companies estimates the project could bring in more than $1 billion worth of economic development. The project also could create as many as 1,300 permanent jobs spread across the various businesses that choose to open there.

The developer is still working its way through the project’s various approvals, entitlements and other moving parts. But if all goes according to plan, infrastructure work could begin in the spring of 2019, with work starting on the senior housing component about a year afterward.

Growing trend

Ryan Companies’ plan for the Ford Site exemplifies a trend that is gaining steam senior housing — that is, the practice of developing senior housing in dense areas surrounded by shopping, dining and entertainment venues. Often, this occurs in major metro areas.

Already, some sizable industry players have put their money behind development pipelines in urban areas. That includes Louisville, Kentucky-based Atria Senior Living, which last week announced a joint venture with luxury real estate firm Related Companies to develop, own and operate more than $3 billion worth of senior living communities in markets like New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington D.C.

Ryan Companies, too, is developing some urban senior housing stock in metro areas like Chicago and St. Louis. And that urban focus should continue into the months and years ahead as more older adults embrace the hustle and bustle of city living.

“We’re starting to see, with multifamily developments, people in their 60s moving in,” Anderson said. “I’ve got to believe that in 10 to 15 years from now, more and more people will be comfortable with that urban dense living environment.”

Ford Site rendering; image courtesy Ryan Companies

But the Ford Site project, located in a former industrial area miles from downtown St. Paul, isn’t quite an urban one, either. Instead, it more closely resembles a “civic center” as outlined in a 2017 report co-authored by Albert Saiz, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Real Estate. Those civic areas are often suburban clusters of residential and commercial spaces where the young and old can co-exist in close proximity to one another.

“By decreasing segregation between older adults and other citizens, these civic areas will encourage intergenerational interactions,” Saiz told SHN last year. “This will improve the behavioral health of the elderly and provide opportunities for younger citizens to learn from their wisdom.”

While it’s not yet clear how tomorrow’s class of retirees will view a dense suburban project like the one coming together at the Ford Site, Anderson is optimistic that they’ve found a winning formula.

“This isn’t downtown density, but it’s not just going to have open space and surface parking like you’ll find everywhere else, and seniors will be fine with that,” he said. “The mix of everything that this provides trumps any of those things that may be different than what they’ve seen before.”

Written by Tim Regan

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