After ‘Existential Crisis,’ Nonprofit SFCJL Creates Byer Square Membership Model

In 2013, the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living (SFCJL) was facing a dire situation. Reimbursement cuts being contemplated by the state of California posed a serious threat to its skilled nursing-focused business model, and the organization’s leaders recognized that they needed to radically reinvent the nonprofit to safeguard its future and continue to fulfill its mission in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Indeed, the nonprofit was facing an “existential crisis,” President and CEO Daniel Ruth wrote last year.

In response, SFCJL embarked on a $140 million expansion and repositioning project that is now nearing completion. As part of that effort, SFCJL is launching a membership program through which people of all ages can have access to many newly available services and amenities.

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The vision is to transform the flagship campus by integrating it more with the surrounding community, creating an intergenerational setting where people of all ages socialize, shop, dine and receive health- and wellness-related services, COO Michael Skaff told Senior Housing News.

The expansion will also bring assisted living and memory care to the campus for the first time, in the 190-unit Frank Residences building under construction.

By adding more private-pay senior living and targeting greater community integration and intergenerational services, SFCJL is on the forefront of broader industry trends.

SFCJL operates the largest nonprofit skilled nursing facility in the state of California, with more than 375 beds, Skaff said. And like other nonprofits that have historically focused on skilled nursing, SFCJL is moving to limit exposure to this part of the care continuum that is under reimbursement pressure and is evolving toward newer, leaner operating models. 

Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that the huge cohort of aging baby boomers craves intergenerational living. And senior living providers, particularly in dense urban locations, are seeing opportunities to create or be part of mixed-use developments that diversify revenue streams while creating environments that draw people of all ages.

Introducing Byer Square

The history of SFCJL can be traced back almost 150 years; the current location at Silver Avenue and Mission Street dates back to 1872. Over its history, the organization has gone through several notable changes and this current project is another “inflection point,” Skaff said.

In addition to the Frank Residences, the repositioning calls for the construction of two other buildings, as well as landscaping changes and the addition of outdoor amenities such as bocce ball and a dog park. Overall, the work encompasses 275,000 square feet.

Frank Residences from Jewish Homes San Francisco on Vimeo.

In creating the plan for how to reinvent the campus, SFCJL leaders not only considered the need to reduce reliance on government payment sources, but also considered other trends shaping the senior housing and care landscape.

Their evaluation led them to envision a more “permeable model,” Skaff said, meaning they wanted to open up the campus more to members of the surrounding community. That led to the plan that is currently being executed, which calls for the Frank Residences as well as the construction of additional buildings for new fitness, spa, health care, dining, retail and other offerings.

These additions together form Byer Square, which is the name SFCJL has given to the combination of services and amenities that will be available to everyone who lives in the Frank Residences as well as to anyone who pays for a membership.

Byer Square will include roughly 45,000 square feet of physical space on campus, including the new Osher Performance Center, a fitness center, warm water therapeutic pool, pilates studio, salon and spa, a cafe and coffee bar, and outdoor spaces.

One of the newly built structures, dubbed “The Lev,” can be seen as the “heart of the campus,” Skaff said. Here, concierges will help Byer Square members identify and access classes, programs, events and services — such as help navigating the health care system — that they need or want.

Byer Square will have a virtual component as well, so that members can stream events that they can’t attend in person, and have access to online tools that support members’ needs, such as care navigation.

Pricing for memberships is still being determined, Skaff said. SFCJL is preparing to launch a marketing campaign for Byer Square, and construction on the campus is slated to be completed in the spring of next year. Pre-sales for the Frank Residences have been robust, according to Skaff, and SFCJL is also in the process of talking to potential tenants for the retail spaces facing Mission Street — another way of creating a more “permeable” campus.

Meanwhile, Skaff and other SFCJL leaders are still considering ways to evolve and enhance Byer Square. For example, Skaff is open to creating a co-working space, noting that many Bay Area residents are in the tech industry and work remotely.

He anticipates that Byer Square will draw significant interest from a cross-section of different age groups, with one notable demographic being the adult family members of SFCJL residents. Having access to the full range of Byer Square amenities gives them multiple reasons to come to the campus.

“You could bring your family on campus and have a meal at one of the cafes, you could spend time in the fitness center — you can go and work out after you spend time with your mom,” Skaff said.

Staff will be given a reduced membership rate, so this is another core group of potential members — and Byer Square should help boost recruitment and retention, Skaff noted.

But beyond these two groups, he anticipates that a large number of Bay Area residents of all ages will likely be drawn to Byer Square. It’s a way of extending SFCJL’s mission while also responding to trends such as the desire of boomers to age in their homes.

“It allows us to think more broadly, over 1,000 or several thousand people that are both on campus and off campus,” Skaff said.

A growing trend

SFCJL is not the only provider seeking greater integration between senior living settings and the community at large, and it is not the only organization that is leveraging a membership model to achieve this.

For example, “integration” has become a watchword for Bloomfield Hills, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities. The for-profit provider is creating a new care model built largely on partnerships with organizations to drive integration, with one example being its work with Music Theater International (MTI) to mount productions of well-known shows such as Guys and Dolls, with seniors playing all the roles.

In another example, a startup called The Embassies of Good Living is aiming to create a new model of urban senior living with a membership component. Members could be of any age and would have access to a range of amenities and services envisioned for The Embassies’ buildings, and they would also have priority to live in age-restricted units also in the buildings.

If the business models for The Embassies and for Byer Square prove to be successful, they could inspire similar efforts from other providers —- but Skaff believes that SFCJL is particularly well-equipped for this effort and not every provider will have the same advantages.

For example, a huge advantage was that the organization already owned prime urban real estate. Furthermore, the existing campus has infrastructure in place to support Byer Square, with on-site laundry and a seasoned information technology group being two such strengths, he said.

In addition, SFCJL also operates the Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto, which is co-located with the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center. While the JCC is a separate organization, its close with with the Moldaw Residences has given SFCJL some idea of how community-based services can dovetail with a more traditional senior living offering.

Byer Square represents new territory, and Skaff anticipates that challenges are inevitable, but the organization’s history and operating expertise give him confidence.

“We build on a lot of experience here,” he said. “So there’s not much I’m concerned about at this point, just making sure we continue to prepare very carefully for launch. It is a very exciting time on this campus.”

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