Housing developments that are custom-made for seniors are springing up across the Twin Cities in a new building blitz to accommodate the state's "silver tsunami" — its 1.5 million baby boomers nearing or now into retirement.
More than 6,000 senior housing units are currently planned for the Twin Cities. While not all projects will be built and others may still be under wraps, about 1,100 senior units are under construction in the metro area, with most opening by the end of this year, says Tom Melchior, director of market research for CliftonLarsonAllen in Minneapolis.
The projects stretch from Burnsville to Maple Grove, and they come in many iterations, including independent and assisted-living units, plus nursing and memory care options for those suffering from Alzheimer's and other dementia-related illnesses.
Every day between now and 2031, about 10,000 baby boomers across the country will turn 65 — a tempting demographic for the $250 billion senior housing industry. More for-profit developers are entering the space than ever before, said John Mehrkens, vice president of project development for Presbyterian Homes & Services, a Roseville-based nonprofit developer.
"You see people looking at senior housing as a type of development that can get done, even if economic times are challenging," he said.
'The next wave'
Despite the surge in development, the latest wave of senior housing is more likely to serve the boomers' parents — those in their mid-80s and older — than the boomers themselves, said Matt Alexander, director of development for Kraus-Anderson Realty in Bloomington, a longtime developer and builder of senior housing. "Boomers are the next wave."
Because the oldest baby boomers turn 67 this year, "the real push [for senior housing] is going to start in about seven or eight years," he said. Between 2010 and 2040, the number of Twin Citians over the age of 65 will double from 307,000 to 770,000, according to the Metropolitan Council. By 2040, seniors will make up 21 percent of the population.
For now, older boomers may be more interested in independent-living options. Plymouth-based affordable housing giant Dominium Co. is building two over-55 complexes in St. Anthony and Crystal, representing an investment of close to $50 million.
In Crystal, 130 units are slated for property that once was home to the Cavanagh school at 5400 Corvallis Av. N., while in St. Anthony, 170 apartments are planned.
"The demographics are so great for what we're doing," said Ron Mehl, Dominium's senior developer. While the complexes will feature amenities such as party rooms, guest suites and exercise facilities, "We don't have nursing services, or any services, that's exactly our niche," he said.
One of the higher-profile development in the works is planned for Maple Grove, where developer Ryan Cos. has teamed up with SilverCrest Properties LLC to build a $34 million full-service senior campus at Weaver Lake Road and Main Street. Ground is expected to be broken in September.
The first part of the two-phase project includes a four-story building with 182 units spanning 260,000 square feet, located in the heart of the city's retail district. "The location is key because the kids of the people living in the community want to be close to restaurants and shopping," said Eric Anderson, vice president of development for the Minneapolis firm.
"This isn't your grandparents' nursing home," he added. "It's more like a hospitality model."
The current wave of construction is good news for an arm of the commercial real estate industry that slowed considerably during the Great Recession. Demand for senior housing waned in tough times, as many retirees saw their stock portfolios and home values shrink.
Experts on aging say the majority of seniors prefer to "age in place" in their current homes and communities, close to family and friends. Among Minnesota's seniors, 86 percent live in a single-family home that they own, and most remain there even in retirement, according to the state Department of Human Services.
"People don't want to move," said George Cundy, an architect who serves on the 50-plus Housing Council for the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. "They like to stay in their house, and if they can't, they like to stay in their neighborhood, and if they can't stay in their neighborhood, they want to stay in their community."
'A different niche'
With more senior projects coming on line, providers need to come up with strategies to differentiate themselves, especially as boomers move into the mix.
"We decided early on that we needed a different niche from other providers, and we focused on wellness," said Michael Gould, president of SilverCrest Properties, which has five senior projects in the Twin Cities. "That's what people want; it was a huge discovery for us."
One of the stand-out features of Summit Place is the HydroWorx aquatic treadmill. For years, athletes from the Vikings, Wild, Twins and Timberwolves sports teams used the pool-treadmill at the senior complex because there was nothing like it elsewhere in the Twin Cities. "When I told my partners I wanted to buy [the $300,000 piece of equipment], they thought I was out of my mind," Gould said.
Shirley Schaller, 76, lived in Eden Prairie and began using the gym at Summit Place well before she moved to the complex. "Everyone was so nice, and you really get to know people," said Schaller. She was sold on the place and moved in a little over a year ago.
As boomers live longer, senior communities will likely see more residents like June Sweet. At 100, the retired St. Paul homemaker is accustomed to being asked her secret to aging gracefully. "I do my chair exercises three times a week," she said. "It's important to get your circulation going."
Sweet moved to Summit Place five years ago. "I like all the people here," she said. "We're all in the same boat. We're old."