New York City’s First Life Plan Community Takes Shape on RiverSpring Campus

New York City is experiencing an influx of new senior living options, with high-profile luxury communities coming online in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Further north in the Bronx, the city will also add another option: its first life plan community.

Covid-19 is not deterring RiverSpring Health’s plans to build the first life plan community in the Big Apple. In fact, the Riverdale, New York-based provider is achieving forward momentum with the River’s Edge project on its Bronx campus.

RiverSpring Health collected 263 priority deposits for the latest phase of River’s Edge, a 270-unit independent living apartment building, and is awaiting approval from the New York Legislature to convert those into the necessary deposits to pursue construction, President and CEO Dan Reingold told Senior Housing News.

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Priority deposit velocity has held steady during the pandemic. Reingold acknowledged that four prospective residents requested their money back, but RiverSpring Health received new priority deposits from three other prospects.

River’s Edge has been in the works for nearly a decade. Nine years ago, RiverSpring Health bought a 14-acre parcel of land adjacent to its existing 18-acre campus, which is already home to an assisted living facility that was repurposed from a skilled nursing facility. The nonprofit provider gradually contracted its skilled nursing exposure in recent years as part of a strategic plan to better fulfill its mission.

“We were too dependent on nursing homes which, under Medicaid, was a very difficult business plan to break even, let alone be profitable,” Reingold said.

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Two other pillars of the strategic plan involve developing an appetite for risk, by creating capitated managed long-term care, and building and expanding RiverSpring Health’s independent living cohort. In addition to the planned apartment building, the provider operates subsidized and middle-income apartments for seniors age 62 and older, with supportive living services. One of the projects was co-developed by Foxy Management, a Bronx-based developer and property management company.

RiverSpring Health’s actions changed the mix of its living units from 80% skilled nursing to a 50-50 balance between nursing beds and senior living.

The planned independent living building will include 270 units in one- and two-bedroom models. RiverSpring Health recently announced it is working with Rottet Studio, a global architecture and design firm specializing in residential and hospitality projects and a reputation for innovation. The pandemic spurred Rottet and RiverSpring Health to amend design plans, to strike a balance between heightened safety and sanitation protocols with upscale finishes and features that prospective residents expect.

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Courtesy of RiverSpring Health
Renowned architecture and design firm, Rottet Studio, is bringing its extensive experience in hospitality to River’s Edge.

River’s Edge will also dive deep into health and wellness. Its art and cultural offerings will feature educational programming from partners Wave Hill, Carnegie Hall, the Jewish Museum and New York Historical Society. And RiverSpring Health is considering having a room for the use of medical cannabis, which is permitted in New York State. The provider has used medical marijuana in its long-term care facility for the past four and a half years, and is regarded as one of the nation’s leaders in studying the use of medical cannabis in an older adult population.

Reingold believes that this will be another selling point for seniors considering a move to River’s Edge.

“It’s been a draw. People want to know that we’re a forward thinking organization,” he said. “I think that any organization that’s dealing with older adults right now has to look at medical cannabis as an option.”

RiverSpring’s move to create a life plan community in some ways bucks recent trends among nonprofit senior living organizations.

Rather than going through the often prolonged and expensive process of building new life plan communities, this segment of the industry focused on growth through affiliation, and diversifying service lines to provide care for seniors off campus. The affiliation trend exploded in 2019 — 25 providers grew through affiliations last year, according to data from the 17th annual LZ 200 list of nonprofit providers from industry association LeadingAge and investment bank Ziegler, which was released last month.

While RiverSpring has an easier path to creating a life plan community than some other organizations, thanks to its existing assisted living and skilled nursing buildings, there are other impediments to overcome.

New York state has some of the most stringent guidelines to licensing life plan communities. The New York Department of Health mandates that 50% of a life plan community’s units must be pre-sold before construction can begin. The agency must also give its approval before a provider can begin marketing a community to prospective residents.

The obstacles have led some developers to build life plan community lookalikes, where active adult or independent living communities are built adjacent to assisted living facilities. One developer, Engel Burman Group, has streamlined this trend on Long Island and is searching for opportunities in new markets for the model.

But despite these challenges, Reingold believes that the time is right for River’s Edge, as older adults will appreciate the benefits of social engagement and health care capabilities in light of the pandemic.

“We’ve had some sleepless nights, but I actually think that Covid-19 is really underscoring the importance of this kind of a product in the New York City market,” he said.

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