“This project has been a very long time in the making.”
Those were the words that Belmont Village Senior Living founder and CEO Patricia Will said to a group of nearly 60 people late last month at a ribbon cutting ceremony of a sales center for the Houston-based firm’s upcoming assisted living facility in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. It is a project that exemplifies an array of trends shaping the future of senior living.
The ribbon cutting was seven years in the making, and there are still another 10 months of construction to go before the first residents move into the 156-unit Belmont Village Lincoln Park late next summer. In between, there have been scores of community meetings to gauge the wishes and needs of this affluent North Side neighborhood, a change in development partners, the demolition of a historic building to pave the way for construction, and lots of waiting, Will told Senior Housing News.
“We believe Chicago is one of the most underserved markets in the U.S.,” Will said. “There are few high quality seniors housing and care communities downtown. It is difficult to find zonable land and it is tough to build.”
Belmont Village Lincoln Park is the latest example of the appetite for assisted living in dense urban areas, highlighted most recently by Atria Senior Living’s joint venture with Related Companies to build up to $3 billion in urban luxury senior living. Maplewood Senior Living will soon open a leasing center for its Inspir-branded Manhattan high-rise, and just on Friday, real estate investment trust Welltower (NYSE: WELL) announced that it will move forward with its second NYC development.
If the golden rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” the new Belmont Village building will be perfectly positioned to capitalize on future demand: it is part of a larger, ambitious mixed-use redevelopment that is poised to redefine the neighborhood when it is completed next year. Mixed-use projects are hot, with other examples taking shape in California’s Bay Area, Miami and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Belmont Village has the opportunity to strengthen partnerships with existing medical partners, and forge new ones with institutions like nearby DePaul University. That would be in line with a trend of closer collaborations between universities and senior living.
Years of planning
Belmont Village Lincoln Park will be located on the former site of the Nellie Black Pavilion. Built in 1931 as part of the larger Children’s Memorial Hospital campus to house nurses working there, the building became a cause célèbre for area preservationists after Children’s Memorial moved to the new, state-of-the-art Lurie Children’s Hospital downtown in 2012.
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McCaffery Interests, a prominent Chicago-based commercial real estate developer with projects in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, announced plans to redevelop the Children’s Memorial site in 2011 and with its partner, Houston-based commercial real estate developer Hines Interests, took control of the site and launched a $350 million redevelopment, Lincoln Common, in mid-2016.
Belmont Village’s interest redeveloping the Black building into senior housing dates back to 2011. After McCaffery took control of the site, it sold the Black building to Belmont and its longtime development partner, Harrison Street Real Estate Capital, in June 2016. After some inspection, the development team recognized the Renaissance Revival building could not be saved, Will said.
“The original structure was obsolete and was not feasible to renovate,” she said. “Residents wanted us to either preserve the original building or build a new building that would approximate the original. We decided to replicate the architecture of the original building, but with modern interiors for today’s seniors.”
Will’s belief there was untapped potential for senior housing in Chicago was proven correct during meetings with local politicians and community groups.
“There are people who have lived all their lives here, and they want to stay here,” Will said.
“There was a lot of study of Lincoln Park to see what the community’s needs were,” Alderman Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes Lincoln Park, told SHN. Smith was first elected in 2011, just as discussions to redevelop the site started, and has been a constant throughout its progress.
One concern consistently raised during these meetings was that the community was aging and there were few resources to allow them to age in place. Belmont Village’s desire to build housing in Lincoln Park intersected with the community’s desire for it.
“We required the developers to have dozens of meetings for feedback about what could be done with the site,” Smith said. “People asked for this kind of housing. It’s a community-driven need.”
‘A community within a community’
Belmont Village Lincoln Park will share common synergies and amenities with Lincoln Common, which Will called a “community within a community.”
The development agreement Smith negotiated between the development team and community group was drafted with the larger community in mind, and limited the scope of what could be built on the 6-acre site.
In addition to the senior housing, Lincoln Common will include 538 apartments, 40 luxury condominiums, 100,000 square feet of retail, a five-story boutique office building, parking for 850 cars and over one acre of open space. The agreement is one of the most stringent in Chicago, and many of its terms were baked in to the official redevelopment plan with the city, Smith said.
“Ultimately, the developer benefits who benefits the community,” Smith said. “Especially with a project of this size and scale.”
Belmont Village’s working relationship with Lincoln Park community groups has blossomed into a deep and abiding one, Will said.
“When we enter a market, we want to be seen as an extension of the community,” she said. “You can’t be in an adversarial role.”
Construction of Belmont Village Lincoln Park is now in the final stages, Will said. Crews are getting ready to start working on the building’s interiors, and the project is on time and on budget.
The project’s sales and marketing efforts are ramping up, as well. Belmont Village has a sales office set up near Lincoln Common, which the executive team will use for meetings with community groups and customers, and to best describe what will happen inside the building, once it’s complete.
Bob Johnson, a 41-year resident of Lincoln Park, said he visited several retirement communities around Chicago, including some continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), before putting a deposit on Belmont Village. Johnson lives two blocks away and said he decided to check the development out, once he heard about it.
What tipped the 70-year-old Johnson in favor of Belmont Village was the services being provided and the view he will have from his apartment. He also decided to commit to the new building while he still had the cognitive abilities to make an informed decision.
“I don’t want to wait until my mind starts going away to make decisions,” Johnson said. “I better look now.”
Written by Chuck Sudo