Maplewood CEO: Inspir Leasing Up Well in NYC, Brand Expansion Taking Shape in US and UK

Earlier this month, Maplewood Senior Living accepted its first residents at Inspir Carnegie Hill, its luxury high-rise senior housing community in Manhattan.

The project was supposed to open a year ago, but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted those plans, and the total cost of the development rose to around $315 million, Maplewood CEO Gregory D. Smith told Senior Housing News. 

Much of the additional cost involved enhancements to building operations, as well as safety and infection controls, and other layers of protection for residents and staff.

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Now that Inspir Carnegie Hill’s doors are open and leasing activity is on track, Maplewood and its investment partner, Omega Healthcare Investors (NYSE: OHI), are turning their attention to expanding the Inspir brand in the U.S. and beyond.

Notably, the firms see England as a desirable market. Maplewood has identified as many as five markets around London where it believes Inspir can gain a foothold in U.K. senior living, Smith said. This will also serve as a launch point for expanding the brand globally. And, Maplewood is close to announcing new Inspir projects in other U.S. markets.

Westport, Connecticut-based Maplewood owns and operates 16 senior living communities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

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Putting delay to good use

As was the case with some other senior living developments in New York City, Covid-19 put a halt to Maplewood’s plans to open Inspir Carnegie Hill by the end of the first quarter of 2021. New York City was an epicenter of the pandemic’s first wave, but as an essential business, the Inspir team was able to continue with construction, albeit at a slower pace.

Construction crews needed to be staggered in order to adhere to social distancing guidance recommended from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with state and local public health departments.

As a result, Maplewood targeted the third quarter of 2020 at the earliest for opening the building. But that would be contingent on two things: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo relaxing restrictions on long-term care facilities, and the probability of a new wave of Covid-19 cases.

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The latter arrived in late October 2020 and began to recede with the onset of vaccine clinics in January 2021. A month later, Cuomo relaxed visitation restrictions on nursing homes and long-term care facilities in accordance with CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines, and lifted the restrictions completely last week.

Maplewood and Omega used the delay to expedite several technology and safety initiatives they planned for the future, Smith told SHN.

At Inspir, they installed photohydroionization systems and enhanced HVAC filtration to improve air quality, brought in ultraviolet light sanitizers for infection control and deep cleaning, and increased the flow of outdoor air pumped into the building.

In addition to improving immediate safety and infection controls for residents and staff, these measures will carry over into a post-pandemic environment and prove useful for annual flu season as well as future outbreaks, which Smith is confident will serve as a selling point for future residents looking to move to the building.

Additionally, Maplewood implemented these new initiatives across its portfolio.

“This was an opportunity to look at [infection control] and apply it to everything we run across,” he said. “We said, ‘Let’s take our [operational] standard and put it on steroids.’”

These building enhancements added to a project that already was garnering widespread attention for bringing luxury senior living to a market with high barriers to entry and an affluent pool of potential residents.

Other features of Inspir Carnegie Hill include:

  • A partnership with Forbes Travel Guide to create custom and proprietary resident service and facility standards and provide training in a variety of interactive formats to elevate the guest experience.
  • A partnership with Rusk Rehabilitation’s Horticultural Therapy Program at NYU Langone Health to introduce the benefits of horticulture therapy to memory care residents in order to reduce stress and improve cognitive function.
  • Partnerships with renowned New York City cultural institutions such as the 92nd YMCA, Jewish Museum, New York Public Library and more, to create an “Ultimate New York City Experience.”
  • Residents will receive highly coordinated access to services at the Martha Stewart Center for Living and the Mount Sinai Health System.
  • A house geriatrician, Dr. Davenport, through a collaboration with the Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
  • Curated experiences from Namaste New York ranging from group classes to workshops to individual sessions that promote health, well-being and vitality.
  • Stage Access, an on-demand streaming platform that delivers performing arts content directly to residents in their rooms and via virtual reality.
  • Dance, music, storytelling and acting activities with entertainment and arts professionals, through a partnership with The Actors Fund.

Pre-pandemic, Maplewood was on pace to have deposits for 40% to 50% of its 215 units by the time the building opened. While Covid-19 did impact sales and marketing efforts, Inspir Carnegie Hill has now received deposits on 90 units, between 25 and 30 residents are expected to move in over the next three weeks, and Smith expects to achieve stabilized occupancy within 18 to 24 months of opening.

He attributes this to the sales and marketing team’s ability to pivot the sales approach during the pandemic, being transparent with depositors and keeping them engaged with updates on the community’s construction and when move-ins would be allowed.

Those efforts included providing meals and, if necessary, home-based care services for depositors.

“It was a tremendous undertaking,” he said. “I can count on one hand the number of depositors that we lost due to Covid-19.”

Taking Inspir to new markets

When Smith announced Inspir Carnegie Hill in 2017, he envisioned building at least another 10 Inspir communities within the next decade.

Having an institutional-grade investment partner in Omega — a health care real estate investment trust (REIT) based in Hunt Valley, Maryland — allowed Maplewood to make progress on its burgeoning Inspīr development pipeline.

The operator is close to announcing plans for Inspir communities in Washington, D.C.; Florida; and in England, where Smith indicated that Maplewood has identified up to five sites in suburban markets around London as suitable locations for the brand, such as Chelsea and Kensington.

He believes that Inspir would have a long runway in the U.K.. The markets Maplewood is exploring for the brand have high barriers to entry. Moreover, U.K. senior housing is weighted toward independent living. Inspir’s mix of independent living, assisted living and memory care would add new options for seniors in need of senior living services.

Moreover, the U.K. and U.S. share many similarities related to senior housing and care, which other leaders in the space have recognized. REITs such as Ventas (NYSE: VTR) and Welltower (NYSE: WELL) own senior living in the United Kingdom. Demographics for future demand, meanwhile, are favorable, and Smith compares future demand for U.K. senior housing to major U.S. markets such as New York and San Francisco, where supply has historically been constrained.

“When you look at the quality and sophistication of traditional assisted living, memory care and enhanced care that we’re building, there’s nothing there,” he said.

England may serve as a launching pad for Inspir as a global brand. But the reach and scale will require creative approaches by Maplewood and its development partners.

For example, the senior population in China is expected to balloon to 300 million by 2033. U.S.-based architects and design firms are already gaining a foothold in the country, but providers and their development partners must learn the market in order to identify the product they want to bring.

Compounding matters, the geopolitical climate may add a layer of difficulty to working with Chinese developers on senior housing projects, Smith told SHN.

If Maplewood expands Inspir to Asia, the company would have other options besides China. Smith believes the brand would find favorable audiences in markets such as Tokyo and Seoul. But it will require caution and being very selective, and the company will reassess its opportunities once it builds out its U.K. pipeline.

“The U.K. is a great stepping point for us,” he said. “I’m excited about the prospects.”

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