As 2021 comes to a close, four hotly anticipated new senior living communities are opening their doors for the first time:
— Sunrise at East 56th, in Manhattan
— MorningStar at River Oaks, in Houston
— Modena Reserve at Kensington, near D.C.
— Trulee Evanston, near Chicago
These communities exemplify several trends in luxury senior living and offer reasons to be excited about what the future holds for the industry, after the last two grueling years of the pandemic.
In this week’s exclusive, members-only SHN+ Update, I analyze these new communities and the trends they embody, and offer key takeaways related to the emerging new luxury model of senior living, including:
— Developers with multifamily expertise are making a mark
— On-site, coordinated health care is a core offering
— All four communities come at turning points for their operators
Redefining urban luxury
All four of the recently opened communities offer high-end senior living, but the Sunrise community is particularly noteworthy, as part of a new breed of urban communities with ultra-luxe design and amenities, commanding rates of $20,000 a month or more.
Other examples in New York City are the recently opened Watermark at Brooklyn Heights and Maplewood’s Inspir Carnegie Hill, while Atria Senior Living and Related Cos. are also driving this trend with their Coterie communities underway in Manhattan and San Francisco.
These communities share some common features, defining a new senior living model for this rarefied part of the market.
For instance, all the buildings are outfitted with robust technology infrastructures; Sunrise at East 56th, the Coterie buildings and Inspir all feature Amazon Alexa voice technology.
Partnerships with cultural institutions and access to exclusive events — including performances, classes and lectures available on-site — are another hallmark of these communities.
And the communities also are pacesetters as healthy buildings, with various certifications and design elements geared toward sustainability and wellness. Sunrise touts that East 56th is the “first and only” senior living community to receive LEED Silver, WELL Certification at the Silver level and WELL Health-Safety Rating Seal certification. The new MorningStar community includes a long list of infection control features, including far-UVC Light Field, needlepoint bipolar ionization, electrostatic sprayers and an array of touchless technology and sanitation stations.
I’m particularly interested in the way these communities are blending high-touch health care with their high-end hospitality through partnerships with health systems.
Among other partners, Atria is working with Mayo Clinic and Inspir is collaborating with Mount Sinai Health System. Northwell Health is the key partner for Sunrise at 56th.
The partnership is designed to create a “holistic approach to senior care,” Sunrise SVP of Operations Denise Falco told me.
Geriatric medicine specialist Dr. Philip Solomon is the community’s medical advisor, and will be the primary physician for residents who enroll in the program. The goal is to facilitate care for residents in the comfort of their own apartments through access to a team of clinicians, both in-person and through telehealth. An integrated electronic medical record will enable coordinated care among the clinical team, the Sunrise wellness team and residents’ families.
There is an additional fee for residents to enroll in the Northwell program, then medical visits and services are paid for through their insurance program, Falco said. (Sunrise’s own Medicare Advantage plan is not currently available in this market.)
An increasing number of senior living operators are seeking ways to bring more care on-site and coordinate services among residents’ various providers. There are various strategies for accomplishing these objectives, including working with “house call” physician groups and efforts revolving around Medicare Advantage plans.
The health system partnerships at the highest end of the market are creating another proving ground for whether integrated care delivered on-site can attract consumers, increase residents’ wellbeing and length of stay, and lower systemic health care costs.
“We do expect it to be a model for all senior health care in the future, especially within a city environment,” Falco said of Sunrise’s Northwell partnership.
Powerhouse developers making a mark
Sunrise at East 56th was developed through the partnership of Sunrise, real estate investment trust Welltower (NYSE: WELL) and global real estate investor and developer Hines.
Hines is a major force in commercial real estate, with nearly $84 billion assets under management and expertise across a range of product types — with a growing senior housing portfolio. In fact, the firm was also involved in the MorningStar at River Oaks community.
The Modena Reserve at Kensington — operated by Solera Senior Living — marks the senior living debut for McCaffery Interests, which has specialized in urban development for three decades, with extensive experience in mixed-use, retail, residential and other types of assets.
And Trulee Evanston — also operated by Solera — involved developer Condor Partners, which has a decades-long track record of urban development across various property types, with a penchant for innovation and risk-taking. For example, the firm was behind the first apartment building in a century to be built without parking in downtown Evanston.
These developers and other players from the multifamily world — including giants such as Related and Greystar — are making their mark on senior living as they build in this sector.
“They have innovated within the real estate asset classes which they have focused on previous to seniors,” Solera Founder and CEO Adam Kaplan said of his development partners. “They’ve brought that same level of innovation into senior living.”
Just as Sunrise at East 56th is part of a new class of communities in the heart of the largest U.S. metros, the other three newly opened communities are raising the bar for luxury in markets just outside of urban cores.
Modena Reserve at Kensington, for instance, is located 10 miles north of the U.S. Capitol, and offers 62 independent living residences, 47 assisted living residences and 24 memory care suites. Creating the community involved the preservation and renovation of two historic buildings dating to the early 1900s. Amenities include a boutique coffee shop, a spa, an indoor/outdoor wine bar, penthouse lounge and 12,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard with a water feature, a firepit, sunshade and a walking path.
Similarly, Trulee Evanston is located 13 miles north of Chicago. The nine-story community features a mix of IL, AL and memory care, with amenities similar to those of a five-star hotel, including a theater, salon, lounge and 9th-floor “Skyline Club” serving coffee and cocktails. The community also is near Northwestern University, creating an intergenerational neighborhood and opening up the potential for partnerships.
Other recently completed or ongoing luxury developments also are exemplifying these trends of historic preservation and locating near academic institutions. Maplewood’s next Inspir project involves the conversion of a historic hotel, while Welltower and Balfour Senior Living are collaborating on a high-end senior living community with a historic preservation component on a former college campus near Boston.
Developer and operator Belmont Village in 2019 opened a community in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, down the street from DePaul University and adjacent to the mixed-use Lincoln Commons development spearheaded by McCaffery. The Belmont Village building replicated almost exactly the exterior of the historic Nellie Black Building that formerly stood on the site.
In the past, Belmont Village was one of a few organizations with the wherewithal to develop such complex urban projects. Now, Belmont Village is still on the leading edge of the trend, partnering with another multifamily behemoth making its first senior living forays: Greystar. But the field has become more crowded as other residential developers have entered the fray; this increases competition but also drives innovation, as exemplified by the four recently opened buildings — and as predicted by Belmont Village CEO Patricia Will.
“I love the fact that residential developers are … going to make us better,” Will said at the 2019 SHN BUILD event.
Operators at inflection points
The four recent community openings also are milestones for the operators involved.
MorningStar at River Oaks marks the Texas debut for Denver-based MorningStar Senior Living and is the lead project in a pipeline with Hines. MorningStar also has an active development pipeline with other partners, and in 2020 appointed its first-ever president to help lead this growth.
Sunrise at East 56th is opening as the company is in the first year of Jack Callison’s tenure as CEO. Over the course of 2021, Callison embarked on a listening tour; Sunrise exited the United Kingdom; and the operator brought on a new COO, CFO and chief clinical officer while also making changes to its portfolio.
Solera was founded just five years ago, and so the Modena Reserve at Kensington and Trulee openings — as well as other openings and acquisitions made in 2021 — are setting up the company to prove out its model. That model involves a singular focus on innovating in high-end communities, not limited by geography.
“People are constantly questioning me on that strategy,” Kaplan said in a Changemakers series interview with SHN. “They’re saying, ‘Well, how are you going to do that successfully? You need to be able to get in a car and drive to your buildings.’ What I’ve been saying to people is, ‘No, we need to build core competencies.’”
Solera has hired heavily from the hospitality industry while also bringing on board senior living industry veterans — including MorningStar’s former CFO, Jamie Ranzan, as president. And Solera is another luxury operator forging health system ties; one of its projects under development is in Las Vegas’ Medical District, and involves a partnership with a national health care system.
After the challenges and setbacks of 2020 and 2021, I’m excited to see these operators opening the doors on ambitious projects as they forge ahead in new directions. I’m hopeful that these recently opened communities, and others set to debut in 2022, will set new standards and create momentum to carry the industry into a post-pandemic future.