Urban living for the elderly is increasing within the United States, and the Willow Valley community’s first downtown property is getting bigger. The company has been planning to build a community for seniors and is rebuilding the historic site across the road as a culinary center that will be located downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Liu Gu expects synergy between the two components of the project. “We can participate in the master plan and combine these two locations, which makes this a truly unique situation,” said John Swanson, CEO of Willow Valley Community, to Senior Housing News.
Last October, Lancaster was named as being the top place to retire by World Report and US News. Swanson is anticipating that there will be a large demand from both new arrivals and aging locals to this area of around 500,000 citizens.
Willow Valley Communities is the owner and operator of four residential communities for seniors: Spring Run, Lake Manor, Manor North, and then Manor, all of which are located in much of the county south of Lancaster.
These communities use Type A life insurance schemes, but Willow Valley has positioned itself more as an active adult option than as a Continuous Care Retirement Community (CCRC).
“We are likely to compare clubhouses and services with some of the leading home builders in active adult homes,” said Swanson, noting that the average age of residents is 70 years old. Like other senior housing providers, Willow Valley saw a growing demand for urban living communities among older adults and set out to find a place in the city of Lancaster.
“Our goal is to … be in the heart of the city and have a real, accessible environment where residents can walk from our community to almost all major restaurants and cultural places,” Swanson said.
The organization found an ideal location: the old production facility for Lancaster newspapers. The building is located near Penn Plaza in the center of the city and is adjacent to a parking structure that will be available to future residents.
The plan will demolish the old production facility to build a skyscraper that will exceed 20 floors and is awaiting city approval. Historical attributes found on the site will be retained and adaptively reused.
Although the design of the building has not yet been completed, Swanson estimates that street-level retail stores in the skyscraper will be open to the public, while residents will have access to several restaurants, lounges, raised terraces, a roof service and a shopping center Dogs and pets, plus a large spa with gym, swimming pool, yoga studio and spa components.
The skyscraper will be a completely independent life. Outpatient treatment is likely to be offered locally. Otherwise, residents have two options for health care. You may receive services at the nearby Willow Valley campus or enroll in the Smart Life Program at Willow Valley.
This is a “home life care” model that currently has 225 members and would allow residents to receive services in their units. “We thought this was an extension and natural extension of our main campus to create an urban satellite,” said Swanson.
In addition to its prime location in downtown Lancaster, Willow Valley moved to this location for a different reason: an opportunity to participate in the refurbishment of the South Market Center on an area of 46,000 square feet across from the planned residential home for the elderly.
Since 1888, the Southern Market has housed a farmer’s market and, according to Swanson, is one of Lancaster’s most historic properties. Today it is only used for some rented office space. In partnership with the Lancaster Equity Community Development Company, Willow Valley Communities has developed a master plan for the hospitality industry.
The Southern Market is supposed to be transformed into a food hall that will be the center for all culinary works. This is just a model that is starting to catch on in other larger urban cities like Chicago, which has One Eleven Food Hall, which recently opened. This is a concept that can provide resources and space for a start-up restaurant that can start to establish themselves in the community.
Additionally, these plans are calling for a training center for the culinary arts, which will be equipped with an event venue, community kitchen, as well as other uses, which could include marker spaces, offices, and co-working spaces.
According to Swanson, there is a lot of synergy between what they are doing in their own building and this spectacular community resource.
For instance, the senior living community could possibly use the Southern Market kitchen to hold cooking classes or use the demonstration kitchen as a type of test kitchen for the elderly. The senior community may be able to use the event space for certain functions that will be able to free up space within the high rise building for other types of uses. The startup companies within the food hall may even cater to the events for Willow Valley Communities, whether at the community or within the Southern Market.
According to Swanson, there is also a large benefit of resident engagement. Most Willow Valley residents are still active within business development programs, and they may enjoy being involved in support of the startup businesses at the food hall.
Lancaster Equity and Willow Valley are now within the entitlement process. Hopefully, by Quarter 4 of 2019, it is hoped that the project has been officially launched and with a name attached to it. Swanson is slowly gathering a lead base for the senior living center.
It is very premature to be able to put an amount on this project, as stated by Swanson. It is anticipated that financing will be done through tax-exempt bonds, and it may also be known that Willow Valley still holds an A credit rating from Fitch.
Swanson, who knows the growing reputation of Lancaster as being an area known for retirement, he is excited to be able to appeal to the city with the use of this project.
Swanson is thrilled that they could be a part of taking a key part of the city and then revitalizing it.
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