A North Carolina-based senior housing owner and operator has more than tripled the size of its management portfolio, and is setting the stage for a gradual pipeline of new communities over the next decade.
Raleigh-based Navion Senior Solutions assumed operations of 10 communities in Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia through a partnership with Longview Senior Housing Advisors. Longview is a Tampa-based affiliate of The Blackstone Group which controls a portfolio of 90 communities in 23 states, totaling over 9,000 units in independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities.
Navion also owns and operates three communities in North Carolina, CEO Stephen Morton told Senior Housing News.
Morton is an industry veteran. He was the co-founder and president of Southern Assisted Living, which he and Chris Hollister grew to become the largest senior housing operator in North Carolina with 41 communities before selling the company to Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) in 2006. Morton would become the CEO of another senior living company, Bell Senior Living, which was sold to Five Star Senior Living (Nasdaq: FVE) in 2012.
Originally, Morton planned to retire after selling Southern, but he continued working in the industry as a consultant and mentor, in addition to forming Bell Senior Living. The itch to work in the industry has always needed scratching.
“When we closed the Southern transaction, it was an empty moment for me,” he said.
Morton founded Navion with his son Arick — a Southern Assisted Living co-founder — in May 2015. Southern Assisted Living veterans make up most of Navion’s executive team. Vice President of Financial Planning & Analysis Stacy Hartnett, Executive Vice President of Operations Kellee Agee and Senior Regional Director of Operations Patricia McCulloh all began their careers at Southern.
“They decided to come back and that is the most pleasing thing about what we’re doing,” Morton said.
Navion is assuming operations of the Longview portfolio during a trying time. Occupancy rates vary across the assets from the mid-60% to the low-90% range, and communities in the coastal markets in South Carolina needed to be evacuated for Hurricane Dorian earlier this month. When Navion assumes control of the final property in the portfolio on Oct. 1, an immediate goal will be to build the workplace and community cultures from the bottom up.
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Tech will play an important role in this, Morton told SHN. Navion is a first use investor in software as a service (SaaS) video platform OneDay, which creates branded video content to increase resident engagement; and K4Connect, a Raleigh-based tech firm serving over 13,000 senior living residents across the country on its K4Community platform.
“We have a complete team of regional teams engaged daily in communities learning what needs to be done,” Morton said.
Navion has been strategic with its first-stage growth. With the Longview portfolio in the fold, the company now turns its attention to its development pipeline.
Navion expects to open the doors on a 152-unit community in Apex, North Carolina, in the first quarter of 2020. It is also ready to embark on a 189-unit project in Raleigh some time next year. Navion’s development pipeline will eventually include between 10 and 14 new communities in North Carolina and contiguous states over the next decade, Morton told SHN.
Morton is not looking to expand to the level of what he and Hollister built with Southern Assisted Living, but he won’t shy away from it, if the opportunity presents itself.
“We would be happy to get to 50 communities provided that they were regionally compact – that’s the most important thing to us,” he said.