Retiring in Style

Jimmy Magahern | Mar 25, 2013, midnight

“It frightens them,” she says, “to see those that really do need more care.”

Olea says there’s a lot of inherent—and in some ways, healthy—denial going on whenever someone puts down the substantial entrance fee to sign up for the good life promised by the ritzy retirement communities. SRG’s sales flier, over inviting images of pools, pianos and patios, proclaims, “We believe life should improve with age.”

True, seniors are living longer today: The average life expectancy is now close to 80, up from 70 in 1960, when Sun City, the nation’s first 55-plus retirement community, opened.

Still, none of us are yet aging in the Benjamin Button direction. According to the latest health statistics, once we hit 65, there is a 69 percent chance we will each need some kind of long-term care in our remaining lifetimes.

It’s a fact most of us would rather not think about, and the reason resort-style retirement communities push the “hospitality” angle over the hospital.

“Nobody wants to think of themselves as becoming that old,” says Olea. “I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every senior I’ve toured a retirement community with—even if they’re 100 years old themselves—who’ll look around the community and go, ‘Oh my gosh, people here are old!’ It truly frightens them when they see people needing a lot of help. Because, deep down, they know we’re all on that path.”

Independence or bust

At last count, there are well over a dozen upscale continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) around Arizona, with three big U.S. chains, SRG, Vi and Sunrise, operating 13 of the state’s top properties.

Besides the Maravilla, SRG also operates Villa Hermosa and Amber Lights in Tucson, La Siena in Phoenix and another three in the Easy Valley: Hawthorn Court at Ahwatukee, Silver Springs in Green Valley and The Village at Ocotillo in Chandler. Vi, formerly Hyatt’s Classic Residence chain, operates the Vi at Silverstone and Vi at Grayhawk, both in North Scottsdale. And Sunrise offers properties in Tucson, Scottsdale, Gilbert and Chandler (although Olea says the Chandler community “lacks the upscale feel”).

No wonder property managers have trouble listing features that truly set their CCRCs apart from the others—particularly in a retirement mecca like Arizona, where such ritzy retirement resorts have become abundant.

“We’ve got an art deco décor throughout our community, which is one-of-a-kind in the state,” says Jerry Pagels, executive director of the Arté Resort Retirement Living community in Scottsdale.

“But other than the fact that we’re all art deco, we’re a senior living community that offers independent and assisted living, and that’s really not unique. There are numerous communities like that around Arizona, obviously.”

Certainly it’s easy to see how the model has caught on, particularly because home sales have begun rebounding, allowing more seniors to sell their old house and move into lower maintenance communities.

The practical advantage of the CCRCs is that the properties offer both independent and assisted living components in one place. The original concept, as pioneered back in 1987 by Hyatt’s Classic Residences, was that residents could transition easily from independent to assisted living as their needs changed, without changing their address, or their circle of friends.

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