The Changing Landscape of Senior Living

When Cordia at Grand Traverse Commons welcomes its first residents on November 1, it is also ushering in a new model of senior living in northern Michigan.

Consider for a moment: has the word “club” ever come to mind when talking about community living for the 60 and over crowd?

Cordia itself is a Massachusetts-based management and consulting firm focused on independent and senior living communities. At one time Cordia owned and operated 18 properties, but “in recent years we have made a very concerted focus on more intentional communities that support active and engaged living,” said President and CEO Karen Anderson, on a recent tour of the soon-to-be-completed residence.

The company now owns and operates only one other facility – Cordia Senior Residence in Westmont, just outside of Chicago, that opened in 2002. When Village developers The Minervini Group had a senior living community on its short list of uses to complete the Building 50 renovation, it was suggested that Cordia management and the Minervinis talk. Those talks ended with Cordia purchasing the crumbling north end of the building and then starting construction of the rental community just one year ago.

“Their approach to creating a very active lifestyle is super consistent with what we’ve been up to,” said Raymond Minervini. “Having the balance of the building occupied is something we’ve been striving for for 12 years,” he said. “To find a senior living developer like Cordia who saw value not only in Traverse City but also in this development … it rounds out the diversity of the neighborhood.”

The Senior Years

The new senior residential club at the Grand Traverse Commons has but one mission in mind – that the years ahead will be as fulfilling as the years behind.

“This is first time we’ve used the word “club” for a project,” explained Dr. Eustace Theodore, vice president, organizational and business development for Cordia. “We want our residents to engage rather than retreat.”

With this development, Anderson said the first question that had to be answered was whether they could design the Cordia concept within the massive historic redevelopment project.

Once they determined the building could support the design, then the focus turned to what the company calls the “Cordia curriculum,” which is based on five areas of independence – physical wellness, emotional health, intellectual activity, cultural activity and spiritual health – from which the amenities the residence offers are built.

The 113,000 square foot facility includes 110 residential units and 92 different floor plans – ranging from 430 square feet to nearly 1,000 – and boasts 30,000 square feet of common space. The environment supports all different lifestyles, or as Dr. Theodore described it, “intentional living with a choice.” Residents can do as much – or as little – as they want.

But the amenities are what owners say set this senior living community apart. From a woodworking shop to a 50-seat theatre, a state-of-the-art fitness room and wellness spa to artist studios, both pub and fine dining, and wireless internet access, this is not senior living of yesteryear.

“What was once far away is now right around the corner,” said Anderson of the changing landscape of retirement living. “Research shows seniors don’t want to be isolated. We want to offer pathways to make that easier.”

Added Dr. Theodore, “Traverse City, in some ways, is the west coast of the Midwest. We think this is the future of senior living.”

What Seniors Want

It is a future that is responding to what the mature population is looking for, according to one senior living expert. “Today’s consumer for senior living communities is very different from those we’ve seen to date,” said Susan Bogan, executive vice president/client relations at GlynnDevins, a senior living marketing solutions company in Kansas. “Expectations are higher in terms of service delivery, amenities and programming. Prospective residents for communities want things the way they want them.”

A good example, she said, is with dining. “They don’t want to be told meals are served from 4 to 6pm in one dining venue,” she said. “They are looking for choice with everything from dining to apartment finishes to life-long learning activities.”

The same is true for wellness – it’s not just for fitness anymore, Bogan added. Rather, it’s a holistic approach to mind, body and spiritual health.

“Those communities that are staying at the forefront of meeting these changing consumer expectations will see more success in the future,” she said.

The local Cordia management team includes Linda Price, Nate Glidden, Heidi Kruse and Megan Raphael. Michael Bauer, a familiar name in the local culinary scene (Poppycock’s, 310, The Boathouse), was recently named executive chef. There will ultimately be some 70 names on the payroll, approximately 45 full-time equivalent positions.

Membership is expected to be at 50 percent within 60 to 90 days of opening (due to pricing incentives), according to Anderson, adding there is a list of other interested individuals in various stages of exploring whether Cordia is the right place for them. She said the majority of people are from the Grand Traverse area, the remainder from Grand Rapids and southern Michigan, and a couple from out of state but with connections here.

According to market research done by the Cordia team, a lot of people in the senior demographic were leaving the area. “They were getting good care but missing the amenities, plus the full apartments,” said Anderson. “We also like the idea of being in an intergenerational, multi-use community. The Village adds a whole other dimension … that’s why we worked so hard to be here.”

While the focus is on independence for as long as possible, the Club does offer Club Living Plus for individuals who need assistance with activities of daily living. If residents reach a point where further care is required, they can bring in any caregiver services to continue to live comfortably.

“We would expect and hope they will remain here … that this would be their last home,” said Anderson. “To stay until the very end … that’s what happens in Chicago.”

People moving in next month span three decades, people in the 70s, 80s and 90s, said Anderson. She noted the only thing the community cannot accommodate are individuals with memory loss issues as it is not a secured facility.

Retirement Life In TC

Others in the “retirement industry” locally are taking note.

Russ Knopp and wife Leslie opened a Comfort Keepers franchise, a provider of in-home care, here nine years

“Cordia is so unique,” said Knopp. “You can see the difference between typical facilities here and Cordia. It is changing the world of senior independent living.”

Knopp said the overall goal with starting a Comfort Keepers in Traverse City was to be a part of making this area a retirement destination, and offering a variety of services to that demographic.

While some seniors choose to never leave home, others crave a more social setting.

In addition to providing in-home care, “we are in every retirement facility in town,” said Knopp. “I see it working hand and glove,” of working with senior living communities.

While the “aging in place” trend – in which seniors aim to live out their lives in their own homes – has led to a boom in the in-home care community in recent years, isolation is becoming a concern, Knopp said

“There was pride, a feeling of success in staying at home,” added Anderson. “What we’re seeing now is people find ‘aging in place’ very isolating … that it’s debilitating to live at home. Suddenly, that big house becomes quite small.”


One Cordia Resident’s Story

Ms. Lou Krec has lived at the Cordia Senior Residence in Westmont for nearly six years, but it was the last place she wanted to go.

“I moved out of my home under duress,” Lou said. “I was never going to leave.”

But her husband needed more support and so after looking all over the Chicago area, her daughter told her she thought they would be most happy at Cordia. Two years after moving in, Krec’s husband passed away and Lou still had her home in Westchester to go back to.

“No way,” she said to a suggestion about moving back home. “I’m living life and so happy to be taken care of.”

She said what she enjoys most is the independent living in her apartment, but the minute she steps out into the hall everyone knows her name.

“There is always something going on,” she said. “You just couldn’t move me out of here. I feel I’m in as good a place as I can possibly be.”


Cordia Construction: By The Numbers

The construction of Cordia at Grand Traverse Commons completed the largest historic preservation project in Michigan history – the former State hospital’s Building 50. It also had the unique honor of being the largest plastering project in the country. Here are some of the spectacular construction stats:

Door trim – 21,000 linear feet or about five miles

Wood base – 52,000 linear feet or about 10 Miles

Drywall – 500,000 square feet or enough to cover about 14 football fields

Plaster – 175,000 square feet; took resources from four states (MI OH, IL, WI)

Windows –550 new windows


Assisted Living Facilities On The Grow In TC

In addition to the opening of Cordia in Traverse City, the area is also seeing growth in assisted living options for people who can no longer live independently.

Local assisted living providers Deb and Wayne Banton have added two assisted living facilities to the local market in the last year. The Traverse Victorian Senior Living Community opened in March at the former Traverse Victorian Inn at the corner of Eighth Street and Munson Avenue.

Renovations were completely finished this past summer with 65 rooms available. Current occupancy is at 25, Deb Banton said, and added she expects the steady growth to continue. The facility has recently partnered with Munson for stroke, dementia and Alzheimer patient care and is also the sister company of the Hospice House for when that reaches capacity.

The Bantons’ other new property is in Acme at the former Gold Coast Inn on U.S. 31. Now named Water’s Edge Assisted Living, it provides all levels of assisted living care. Reservations for one of the 27 rooms are now being taken and planning to have it open later this fall.

They first opened Country Pleasures Assisted Living in Traverse City 10 years ago and said demand is strong for assisted living care here, which encouraged them to add two new facilities.

“We have a medical director at all three buildings,” said Banton. “We can provide any needs in house.”

More information on either assisted living facility is available by calling 947.4626.