How Margaritaville’s Designers Are Bringing Parrothead Vibes to Active Adult Living

With three communities coming together and a list of prospective residents in the hundreds of thousands, it’s safe to say the Latitude Margaritaville active adult brand is having its moment in the sun.

The project, a collaboration between Margaritaville Holdings and Minto Communities USA, even has a Wheel of Fortune giveaway promotion on the horizon. While the enthusiasm for these communities is good news for the projects’ backers, it also puts pressure on them to get it right — and the design team has a mission-critical role to play in conjuring up the atmosphere that residents expect.

Part of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Eric McBride, COO at The McBride Company. The creative concept and design firm is responsible for envisioning Latitude Margaritaville’s sales center, social club, main entertainment square and common area buildings. The firm also acts as the project’s brand ambassadors.

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Senior Housing News caught up with McBride to learn more about the firm’s vision for Latitude Margaritaville, and how these Jimmy Buffett-themed active adult communities might help inform how other kinds of senior housing are designed.

SHN: Describe how The McBride Company got involved with this project.

McBride: We’re a creative conceptual design firm, foremost. We’ve been in business for 35 years. We are registered architects, interior designers, set designers and show designers. Most of our stuff these days is in the hospitality and leisure destination category. We’ve been with the Margaritaville brand for 20 years, since day one.

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We also work with other companies like Nickelodeon, Hard Rock, and we’re doing work at Disney Springs. So, we work all over the globe. When it came to doing this project, we didn’t look at it differently than anything else. Whether we’re doing a water park or a 55-plus community, it’s all about the experience and meeting expectations.

We do everything with the [Margaritaville] brand. We’ve done hotels, resorts, we’ve done many restaurants in and out of the country. We’ve done time shares for them. We’ve helped them design products. It’s everything across the board. We do all the retail stores. We’ve even designed furniture for them with Ethan Allen, which, by the way, is an option for [Latitude Margaritaville residents] to purchase. So, we have done a lot of fun Margaritaville stuff.

How did you design Latitude Margaritaville to incorporate the brand? And what was your overall vision for the project?

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We started by saying, what would make this a special place, a true destination, a lifestyle?

Jimmy [Buffett]’s lyrics about growing older but not up, that really set that tone for this project. We wanted to make sure these communities felt like it was your reward for all your hard years of work, not something you’re downsizing into or moving into.

The minute you [drive] in to the project, you feel you’ve made it to Margaritaville. There’s a guardhouse that’s Caribbean-inspired. For the sales center, we took our years of experience in the entertainment field and we did a walkthrough experience. To start with, you walk into an arch that says “no passport required.” The center truly immerses you in the Margaritaville experience so that you understand what the mission statement is, and that it is a true lifestyle.

During the walkthrough, you get to stop and get a refreshment for free. You get to see activities that are available in the area, and the community. You see murals on the walls. There is signage, graphics, projections and music, obviously. We talk about what the different elements are that make up Margaritaville. And then that leads you to a video that has a fun Jimmy Buffett overview as you walk into the rest of the sales center.

This all gets you in the mood. It’s a lot of fun. And instead of just walking in cold and reading over brochures, it’s a completely themed experience.

The beauty of the rest of this project it is a true destination within itself which has many different facilities in it. There is a town center with a bandshell, and around that, you have different amenities. One of the big important pieces we did here was to make sure the pool experience, the dining experience and everything else reflects the brand and the lifestyle.

So, we have a restaurant that’s called Latitude Bar and Chill. The restaurant and its bar seats are indoor and outdoor. It’s got a private dining room, breakout rooms. And it’s all in the spirit of an upscale Margaritaville lifestyle brand. There’s a Fins Up Fitness Center, which is all branded. There are indoor lap pools with aerobics. There’s also an arts and learning center, which is a cool spot because we have “Barkaritaville,” which is where you take your dog to get cleaned up and pampered for the day. There’s a business center, too. And the colors are fun. We spent a lot of time getting the colors just right.

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How do you take Jimmy Buffett lyrics and translate that into a senior housing product?

If you’re a “parrothead,” which is what they call fans of Jimmy Buffett, you look for and notice every detail and nuance to a Margaritaville facility, whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, whatever it might be. But when we design these, we design these for everyone to enjoy and have fun. If you get the reasons why we have certain things in there and you know Jimmy Buffett’s songs, you have that extra level of discovery.

In Latitude Margaritaville, for example, on the golf carts we’ve got a [Landshark Lager] fin on the roof. Landshark is one of the Margaritaville brands. So, you’ve got a fin on the top of the golf cart. You see that coming down the fairway and you’re like, that’s fun.

When it came time to working on the homes themselves, what we did is, the shutters on the homes, they have cutouts of pineapples or parrots or a fin. We used a little bit more nautical light fixtures for the homes. And, the colors are important. Along with Minto’s expertise in building these homes, we added the branding overlay so you felt you that you’ve made it to Margaritaville.

How do you strike the balance between having these fun attractions, but also not making people feel like they’re living in a theme park?

That is a very difficult task. There’s almost nothing harder than achieving that. When we do, for instance, the Margaritaville hotels, the point that we have to get across is that it’s a very upscale casual facility. You go into a Margaritaville restaurant, and you’ve got guys in stilt walkers, music playing, balloon hats. But you don’t want to live that experience 24/7.

So, we have fun in the walkthrough, but we are sophisticated in what you are going to live in. The homes have very cool colors and you’re able to choose your furniture or things from the model home. It’s all brand-appropriate, but it hasn’t pushed it too far.

Active adult and traditional senior living are two very different product types. But, the lines are blurring a little bit here and there, especially on the independent living side. With that in mind, what can the senior living industry learn from the way you designed Margaritaville?

I think it’s about the mindset that it doesn’t have to be what has been traditionally thought of as what you do when you get older. We still think young, and there’s no reason why you have to develop communities that think in a mono-focused view on what you’re supposed to do versus what you can do and what you aspire to do.

Where do you think the active adult sector is headed, design-wise? What’s on the horizon?

I think Margaritaville is it. This is what, in my mind, is taking that next step. It’s about fun. And it’s been an unbelievable response. People who are 35 years old come up to me and say, I want to go there. It’s appealing for everybody, and it’s been a great ride.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Written by Tim Regan

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