When Dr. Morris Miehl and his wife Marian first moved to Atlanta 20 years ago from California to be closer to their children, there wasn’t much choice in terms of private senior living communities.
He finally heard of a property in Sandy Springs not far from the Chattahoochee. They were fully rented except for a single, large, but poorly designed unit.
The way the property was run, as he described it, was “just plain weird.” But faced with few other choices, he leased the apartment.
“The manager at the time showed up once a week to play the piano for the residents, then he disappeared,” Dr. Miehl recalls. “They did nothing for you in terms of activities, and if you complained to your waiter about the food, they turned around and just walked away. It was a sellers’ market and no one in the business cared.”
Today, all that has changed. Not only have the options for senior living increased, but there is much more thought given to design and innovative features. For example, on a nine-acre site on Howell Mill Road, Village Park Senior Living is building a new $300 million community called Corso Atlanta.
It’s in sharp contrast to The William Breman Jewish Home, its older, nearby neighbor on the same street, which aims for a high standard of personal care, but in a more basic and practical design.
According to the National Investment Center for Senior Housing & Care, Atlanta is the hottest senior housing market in the country, with over 2,900 units under construction in the third quarter of 2019. Low labor and land costs and fewer regulatory restrictions have helped contribute to the building boom.
Unlike the situation 20 years ago, metropolitan Atlanta is an extremely competitive market, with innovative, well-financed new projects opening, seemingly, every week, and new, even more futuristic concepts on the drawing board.
Corso Atlanta’s goal is to provide the ambiance of a European village in the upscale Buckhead location. Monthly rentals range from $7,000 to $14,000 each month but could go higher based on the level of care that’s expected.
According to Kari Samuelson, COO of Village Park, the aim of the community is to provide a wide range of services right outside a resident’s front door.
“We want people to feel like they are living in their own country club,” she said. “We’re creating an environment where everything is available to them in a secure way and an easy and safe way.”
And as if to place more emphasis to what sets Corso apart, she adds, “We want to be a community where you want to live, not where you have to live.”
Rabbi Scott Saulson, who for many years was the community chaplain with Jewish Family & Career Services, is not so sure that seniors are as psychologically prepared for all this togetherness and community-building as real estate developers seem to believe.
“We live as Americans, even American Jews, in a very individualistic society that has left the idea of communalism in the dust. It sometimes requires a considerable readjustment to be part of a communal setting.”
Saulson now runs a mediation service for seniors and their families called Moving Parents. It offers workshops and other services to help seniors plan for a smooth retirement.
“The role of the residential community can be a socially expansive experience or it can be a restrictive experience, especially for people who are not very social to begin with.”
But there’s a growing belief among senior housing developers that the rapidly maturing numbers of baby boomers will want more togetherness and more sophisticated choices rather than less.
Holbrook communities, based in Alpharetta, is planning to spend over $1 billion over the next several years developing properties in the Atlanta area and elsewhere in the Southeast that promise a new level of social activities for aging residents with an emphasis on wellness and innovative living services for the well-heeled.
The company’s CEO Al Holbrook hired a doctor to offer anti-aging and regenerative medicine at his properties and started a program to source fresh products from 60 local farms for the gourmet restaurants that are being built.
Holbrook’s new director of culinary services, Tom McEachern, a veteran Atlanta chef, was a recent contestant on one of the Food Network’s celebrity chef competitions. For those residents who can do it, the company is planning a trek to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
“Our future residents are usually in their mid-60s and they’re not ready to slow down. In fact, they want more,” Holbrook said recently in a company statement. “More amenities, more chances to use their brain, more chances to volunteer, and more chances to live their life to the fullest with other like-minded people.”