An ambitious $75 million mixed-use development in Alabama aims to blend senior living, integrative health and wellness, coworking and a hotel into a new formula for intergenerational living, and there are already plans in the works to bring the model to other markets
Wellpoint at Hampton Cove in Huntsville, Alabama — a joint venture of Chicago-based Charter Senior Living, LifeCenters Communities of Franklin, Tennessee, and St. Louis-based Hutchinson Consulting — will be built in four phases. The first phase, a senior living center consisting of 114 independent living apartments, 50 assisted living units and 26 memory care suites, broke ground April 30 and begins pre-leasing in July, Charter Senior Living founder and CEO Keven Bennema told Senior Housing News. The first residents are expected to arrive in May 2020.
The second phase of construction is the VIA Center for Wellbeing, which will offer a comprehensive range of medical, preventive care, health, fitness, nutrition, and spa services designed to improve overall well-being. Groundbreaking is planned for fall 2019.
That will be followed by a hotel, Guest House at Wellpoint, and Residences at Wellpoint, with 40 coach houses and villas. The development team is still working through the entitlement programs for Guest House; Bennema anticipates it will contain between 90 and 100 rooms, and the development team is in talks with two major hotel operators to manage the property. Most of the Residences at Wellpoint will be available for purchase, and Bennema said some will become rentals.
A coworking component
The VIA Center will be the linchpin of the Wellpoint development. Its full slate of services will be available for use for senior living residents and hotel guests, as well as from the greater Huntsville community.
In addition to the integrative health and wellness component, it will also be home to The Enterprise Center, a coworking space for different generations to gather, learn from one another, advance technology and create new career and economic opportunities, Hutchinson Consulting Partner Michael Tompkins told SHN. Hutchinson is a recruitment and consulting firm specializing in the wellness and hospitality industries.
Tompkins is a fan of the coworking office model popularized by companies such as WeWork, MakeOffices and Spaces by Regus, but he feels it is too young and entrepreneurial. The development team’s goal with The Enterprise Center is to leverage the experience of retired seniors who have worked in business to work with startups renting space, sharing their expertise in marketing, sales, budgeting and fostering positive work cultures.
“It we look at the coworking model, one thing it lacks is wisdom,” Tompkins said. “Imagine what a great incubator this could be for startups, with access to this experience.”
Intergenerational senior living is one of the most popular trends in senior housing development. Health care is improving and life expectancies are rising, and more senior housing is being built in high-density urban areas with a built-in multigenerational component. A growing number of seniors prefer to live in active communities with connections to the outside community and share their life experiences, knowledge, skills and wisdom.
A coworking component adds an intriguing wrinkle to intergenerational senior living, and Bennema believes Huntsville is the ideal proving ground for test that theory — engineering is the foundation of Huntsville’s economy. It is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and U.S. Space & Rocket Center, an outpost of the Boeing Company and defense contractor Camber Corporation. Additionally, Huntsville Hospital employs over 6,300 workers, according to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
“The coworking space could be significant,” Bennema said. “We we can offer space to startups and we can help fund those companies if they have a viable business plan.”
An immersive health care delivery model
Even without the coworking component, the VIA Center’s comprehensive continuum of health care and wellness services will attract multiple generations and provide fully integrated touchpoints for Wellpoint’s senior living and hotel components, whatever the lifestyle goals of the community, Bennema told SHN.
As more baby boomers are entering the senior living sector, health care choices are becoming driven more by choice instead of need. Unlike their Greatest Generation counterparts, boomers’ higher discretionary income offers seniors choice decisions that are market driven surrounding lifestyle and wellness.
“It’s a paradigm shift, redefining the future of aging,” Tompkins said. “We see this as the way of the future.”
Tompkins also believes the ongoing shift in health care from acute care to preventative health and wellness will position the VIA Center as a model for future care delivery. The increase in demand for health care is outpacing the projected job growth in health care settings, a trend expected to continue through 2026. The senior population in rural areas is also growing, creating a demand-supply imbalance and an increased need for low-income senior housing in rural areas.
Wellpoint’s development team is in negotiations with a supplier of health information technology solutions, devices, hardware and services. This supplier would provide electronic health records and equipment, as well as provide customized health care and wellness packages tailored to a patient’s needs and goals, and monitored by a health care professional, Bennema told SHN.
A scalable model
Charter sees Wellpoint as a new model for incorporating senior living into mixed-use, and is working with LifeCenters on forming a pipeline of sites across the country.
The venture secured a site in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for a second community, and is scouting New England and Florida for additional sites, Bennema said. The goal is to have a pipeline of several similar communities under development within the next three-to-five years, and if Wellpoint at Hampton Cove proves to be successful, those plans may be fast-tracked.