Retiring in Style

Jimmy Magahern | Mar 25, 2013, midnight

The grand lobby of Maravilla Scottsdale is adorned with all the touchstones of a high-end resort: high vaulted ceilings, bronze ring chandeliers, hand-made tiles, fine art by star artists like Alicia LaChance, George Bucquet and Karin Schminke and, virtually every 10 feet, another set of comfortable-but-chic couches and chairs hand-selected by Beverly Hills’ top hotel interior designer Cheryl Rowley. Down to the last detail, the Maravilla, North Scottsdale’s newest entry into the burg’s already crowded market of upscale senior living communities, is designed to dazzle the eye with all the accoutrements of the finest five-star resorts.

But right now, what Tim Cowen is most interested in talking about is what the first-time visitor to the ritzy retirement village doesn’t see: the 110,000 square foot, $5.8 million underground parking garage located directly beneath the Maravilla’s lobby, Bistro Bar and Ironwood Grille.

“When you walk through the front doors, you’re actually on top of a huge parking garage,” says Cowen, the property’s executive director, who’s personally viewed its design and construction on a prime piece of real estate overlooking the TPC golf course over the past five years.

“This lobby, that courtyard and our main restaurant are all on top of a parking garage the size of two football fields. But to the people living here, if they didn’t know better, they’d have no idea it was even there.”

That out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to the messy business of car parking has also been applied to the Maravilla’s placement of its 36 assisted living and 24 memory care residences, which are not on the standard sales tour and grayed out on the independent living section’s community map. While the Maravilla, one of seven upscale retirement communities in Arizona owned by the Senior Resource Group (SRG) chain, offers a top-level staff of skilled medical professionals formed through a unique partnership with Scottsdale Healthcare in its assisted living wing, that part of the mix is de-emphasized in the property’s marketing. Its brochures tout the dining room’s lobster bisque and passion fruit crème brûlée over the memory care unit’s nationally acclaimed Alzheimer’s and dementia care programs.

“You can walk through here for 15 minutes and you’ll sense no institutional aspects to the environment whatsoever,” Cowen says. “What you’ll see instead are all the custom touches: hand-designed tiles, hand-blown glass from Germany.”

The invisibility of any hospital-like elements is what most sharply distinguishes the new resort-style retirement living complexes from the staid and depressing “old folks homes” of the past.

Angela Olea, CEO of Assisted Living Locators, a Scottsdale-based national franchise that offers free referrals for seniors and their families on long-term care and senior housing, says it’s no accident today’s more desirable retirement homes are doing their best to hide the handrails and emergency buttons in their hallways with faux crystal tiles.

“What I truly am seeing is, among those who have the means to move into the upscale communities, they don’t want any indication of institutional elements anywhere,” Olea says. That goes for the less-healthy residents of the communities themselves, whose walkers and wheelchairs can provide a troubling reality check for those signing up for the vibrant, maintenance-free lifestyle such places promise.

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