Over the last couple of decades, there has been a paradigm shift in how consumers purchase products. This shift to online consumerism and away from the large-scale malls has created a profound challenge throughout the country and an exciting opportunity for those with vision and imagination. In most regions, you will find decaying malls located in an asphalt jungle of empty parking lots and vacant retail spaces. This creates serious economic challenges for developers and municipalities. While many malls today have lost their previous appeal of large department store anchors, air conditioned food courts and trendy boutiques, a new opportunity has emerged to offer some hope for the future repurposing of malls in America.
To infuse life back into these remnants of our past, mall developers around the country are converting the empty parking lots and big box stores into mixed retail and residential developments. Paraphrasing the popular line from Field of Dreams, “If you build it [housing], they will come [shop].” Positioning a population surrounding the mall will bring steady income into the restaurants, retail developments and public areas within the mall and ensure a lively urban community will keep the entire area thriving. In this context, the surviving portion of the mall proper becomes the city center, or agora, of this development surrounded by mixed use buildings to create a lively and highly walkable environment. Providing many of the amenities needed for daily life including fitness centers, grocery stores and office spaces along with restaurants, a theater and retail can make this type of residential development highly desirable.
This type of live-work-play development has an enormous potential for failing malls in most regional districts, but lacks one important aspect to make it exponentially more successful: Senior Living Communities (SLC). One challenging aspect of the waning commercial box stores is maintaining activity within the mall district or context. The fresh vision of an urban mixed use environment can be appealing to the working professional, which activates the development only during afternoons and weekends. However, including SLC within the development can provide the potential to activate the mall during all-hours of the week. Including Senior Living Communities within these environments can activate the mall during these hours and help to bring outside visitors, for renewed activities, including shopping and other community activities. This type of development can also help solve one of the challenges for Senior Living environments, which is the lack of integration within the fabric of the surrounding community.
Integrated Development II and SAS Architects, along with USAA Real Estate and Centennial Real Estate, are realizing this potential by partnering to build and operate a luxury senior living community within the Fox Valley and Hawthorn Malls. The vision behind this development is to create an inspiring and active community for seniors which complements the retail, restaurants, unique regional offerings and residential properties found at the mall. The concept is a city within a city and has a myriad of easy to reach opportunities that benefit a greater demographic of young adults and older adults looking to maintain a vibrant quality of life through retirement.
Reemergence of the Mall Walkers: Benefits to the Mall Development
As previously mentioned, the idea behind this type of development is to surround the mall with a steady population who can utilize the retail and amenities that the mall has to offer. One challenge behind this concept involves the demographic who would most likely be interested in this type of development: the working professional. While the emergence of the hybrid worker can help with this challenge, and creates interesting development opportunities for internet cafes and flexible work spaces, the inclusion of a population of seniors creates the potential for activation of the mall common areas and amenities at non-peak hours. Through creative programming and partnerships with a Senior Living Community, it is possible for each to thrive off of one another. One other tangible benefit is that Senior Living Communities attract visitors (i.e. friends and family members), which brings more people to enjoy the amenities that the mall has to offer. This can lead to a better use of shared spaces both within the mall and at a senior living community within this context.
Live-Work-Play-Retire: Benefits to the Senior Living Development
More often than not, senior living developments are located on satellite sites, separated from city centers and not ingrained into larger community fabrics. This leads to the challenge of fitting all of the amenities one would need for daily life into a single building or series of buildings to provide the independence that seniors may need at varied levels of care. This leads to larger building footprints, more costly or complex developments and a phobia about entering these communities due to the notion of loss of independence and “Going into a Home”. The idea that a Senior Living development can be ingrained into a residential redevelopment with easy access to retail, restaurants, theaters, specialty activity opportunities and community events can help to curb some of these challenges and encourage an active lifestyle for all ages. In reducing the building area with the close proximity to these public amenities, there is also an opportunity for a positive environmental impact as a smaller building requires less energy to operate.
The close proximity of the Senior Living Community to these amenities creates an opportunity for collaborative programming with the mall development and reduces the reliance of vehicles. For instance, there is a potential to eliminate or reduce the size and services included in a fitness center within the Senior Living community if a larger fitness center within the mall development exists. Staff of the larger fitness center could provide opportunities to work and operate out of the Senior Living Community, thus reducing the need for a full time employee within the community. Unique partnerships with local restaurants can create a specialized dining offering which could encourage residents to utilize these outside venues. Restaurants can also sponsor events within the Senior Living Community to provide residents with a variety of dining options. There is an opportunity to reduce the need for your typical Multi-purpose room within the building as larger scale community events can be hosted within the mall common areas. To assist residents with their shopping, the Senior Living community can use a shuttle service or partner directly with the mall for personal shoppers to assist. With a little creativity and collaboration by the Mall and Senior Living program directors, collaboration could be limitless, thus providing a different type of senior living experience that elevates the engagement of the community as a whole and provides a more seamless integration of activities that helps all ages thrive.
Seniors at the Mall: A Theory in Practice
The two proposed developments in the Chicago suburbs at Fox Valley and Hawthorn Malls by Integrated Development II, in collaboration with SAS Architects, USAA and Centennial, attempt to redefine the experience of a Senior Living Community. These two developments will house Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care residents and will be the first development offering this new type of “Concierge Living.” This community will offer concierge living as the primary service package for all residents and will be especially attractive to independent minded seniors who do not need additional care and prefer a la carte pricing options. These service packages will include activities and social clubs, weekly housekeeping, a health and wellness program, fitness center and dining within multiple restaurant venues. Additional dining and assisted living services are available for those who are in need. These developments will partner with the mall to create further services and amenities within their communities to increase the independence of their residents. To promote an intergenerational environment and help to overcome the negative connotations behind Senior Living Communities, certain services within their community will be open to the general public.
One trepidation of those considering Senior Living Communities is the potential loss of independence and personal options. A concierge approach to Senior Living allows for an increased number of options for the residents, which provides a level of independence that is hard to achieve in other communities. The integration of these communities into the fabric of these newly revitalized residential / commercial districts creates a new type of development which is sure to flourish in the future: Live-Work-Play-Retire.