The “Vertical Medical City” is still only a concept, but Ponte Health Properties continues to build a pipeline of sites in the U.S. and is looking overseas for future growth of the ambitious projects that tie senior living and health care in prime locations.
Ponte Health will break ground on its $1 billion Vertical Medical City in Orlando by year-end. The Orlando-based company announced it has a letter of intent to purchase a site in downtown Chicago where it plans to build a 21-story building, CEO and founder Tabitha Ponte told Senior Housing News.
Ponte Health has three more sites identified in Florida: in Miami-Dade County, North Palm Beach and Tampa. And Ponte is planning Vertical Medical Cities in Denver and Portland, Oregon.
“This [concept] is unprecedented,” Ponte said. “Nobody has done anything like this before.”
Ponte’s background before focusing on health care was in government construction, building and designing mid- to large-scale public works. A health scare a few years ago inspired her to turn her attention to health care development.
Not a CCRC
The Orlando Vertical Medical City moved a step closer to reality in April when a new master plan for the project was submitted to local officials for review.
The project consists of three towers: a 300-foot tall critical care tower, a 444-foot tall non-critical care tower and a third building at around 440 feet. The non-critical care tower was originally slated to top out at 540 feet before the Federal Aviation Administration approved the final height last January, so as not to interfere with air traffic.
Nearly 40% of the development is earmarked for residential use, and another 40% dedicated to medical office and research and development. The remainder would be used for surgical and emergency facilities.
In total, the Orlando project would include 955 apartments offering assisted living, memory care, stroke and hospice services, Ponte told SHN. Ponte Health itself plans to operate the senior living component.
“This is not a CCRC,” she said. “We have no independent living on site.”
The Chicago development, at an estimated cost of between $500 million and $600 million, would be 40% smaller than its Orlando counterpart, with 245 residential units and 200,000 square feet of medical office space, and would serve as a template for future Vertical Medical Cities moving forward.
Ponte Health wants to focus on dense urban infill markets with positive growth trends in seniors seeking assisted living and memory care, near where their children work and live. More important, Ponte believes the Vertical Medical City concept will redefine what it means to age in place, as well as deliver health care itself.
Where health care currently operates as an appendage to how seniors age, particularly in emergency situations, the Vertical Medical City intends to seamlessly integrate health care into a resident’s life experience. The developments will include common spaces where residents and health care professionals can participate and practice wellness activities and lifestyle programming.
Ponte Health also sees room in these projects for research and development.
“We’re allowing ourselves the creative process of developing and launching new health care operations,” Ponte said.
Eyes on Asia
Future Vertical Medical Cities will be developed based on statistical demand, and Ponte Health has its eyes set on Asia, Ponte told SHN.
Markets such as China, where the over-60 population is expected to grow to over 300 million people over the next 15 years, are seeing demand for senior housing grow at a rapid pace. U.S. architectural firms are already helping Chinese investors develop senior housing.
China is one market where Ponte Health believes Vertical Medical Cities would prove popular. Japan is home to the largest elderly population in the world — 27% of its population is 65 or older.
The over-65 population in Japan is expected to account for nearly 39% of the total population by 2050, according to a 2016 report from the University of Chicago Law School.
“There is a specific issue unique only to Japan in that elderly women will be more [in need] because they are either widowed or never married,” Ponte said.
Ponte also sees significant need for Vertical Medical Cities in India but she is not concerned about owning premium real estate to gain footholds in Asia.
“If this was about real estate, we would have done something simpler,” she said.