How Watermark is Elevating Arts and Culture Programming At Its $330M NYC Community

It’s become a cliche that future senior living residents will demand much more than bingo and Bible study — and providers are now elevating their offerings to new heights.

Take Watermark Retirement Communities, which hired an arts educator and film and theater director to lead activities and programming at its luxury development slated to open soon in New York City.

The Tucson, Arizona-based company last month named Aaron Feinstein as the director of the people, arts and culture team at The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights, a $330 million senior living highrise set to open in the New York City borough of Brooklyn in August. The community is one of five properties in Watermark’s new Elan Collection.

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In hiring for Feinstein’s role at the Brooklyn community, Watermark set out to find someone who could help it take its programming to the next level. Originally, the company was looking to fill a vacant community life director position — but Watermark changed the title for Feinstein, according to Executive Director Rocco Bertini.

“Our community life program is way beyond a typical recreation program in an assisted living community,” Bertini told Senior Housing News. “The amenity spaces that are offered in this building are unlike other assisted living communities, which have recreation directors.”

The community comes with high-end amenities such as multiple upscale and diverse restaurants, an art gallery, art studio, performing arts center, salon and spa, fitness center with a yoga and pilates studio, wellness center and indoor heated swimming pool. Rates range from $8,295 for a studio apartment to $19,500 for a two-bedroom/two bathroom residence. The community’s project partners are Kayne Anderson Real Estate, Watermark and Tishman Speyer, with architecture and design from Montroy DeMarco Architecture and Lemay+Escobar.

The forthcoming senior living community resides inside a historic 1928 building that once housed the Leverich Towers Hotel. The hotel is perhaps most famous for hosting Brooklyn Dodgers players during home games, and the building served as a national hub for the Jehovah’s Witnesses until it changed hands in 2017.

As director of the people, arts and culture team, Feinstein is tasked with curating meaningful and interesting experiences for the 275-unit community’s resident population and their loved ones. Unlike a more traditional programming director, Feinstein will focus on connecting residents with New York City’s storied people and places.

“We’re in a place where there are incredible thought leaders [such as] New York Times authors and Broadway performers,” Feinstein told Senior Housing News. “To cultivate that kind of talent in another place in the country is not easy. But in New York City, it’s very doable.”

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Feinstein is well positioned to bring high-quality talent to Watermark. He founded a nonprofit dedicated to providing equal access to the arts for children, teens and adults living with autism and other disabilities, and will also focus on making the arts accessible for senior living residents. He also produced over 200 live acts as a segment producer for Wonderama, a children’s television show that originally aired between 1955 and 1977, and was revived in 2017.

Watermark residents will be able to take part in live music events and theatrical performances, arts and music classes adapted to meet their needs, outings to museums, Broadway and local theater performances, cultural events and outdoor spaces.

Feinstein’s vision for the community’s programming is already taking shape. He has over the past two months moderated virtual tours of the community along with other events, like a wine appreciation seminar from master sommelier Fred Dexheimer; a home Israeli cooking demonstration with the community’s executive chef, Kfir Kertes; and a primatology lesson from comedian and anthropologist Natalia Reagan.

“This is not the amateur talent room,” Feinstein said. “I don’t think a lot of people have had the experience of going into a senior living facility and seeing a top-notch Broadway performer on stage.”

Watermark is not the only senior living provider focused on integrating senior living with top-flight arts and culture, particularly in urban locations. Louisville, Colorado-based Balfour Senior Living, for example, takes pains to hire life enrichment directors with an intimate knowledge of local arts, culture and cuisine.

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