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Is a college campus just as desirable to senior citizens as a golf course or any other amenity offered by traditional retirement communities?
Thats the question the city of Rock Hill and Winthrop University are asking as they consider planning active-adult residential development near the university and downtown.
Gerard Badler, managing director of Campus Continuum the firm hired to complete market research for the Rock Hill project said university partnership with retirement communities is a popular trend across the nation. Similar communities were built in partnership with the University of Arizona, the University of Michigan and Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Retirees are willing to pay a premium to take advantage of a colleges programs and facilities, he said. That premium is comparable, Badler said, to what senior citizens pay to live in a golf course community.
In this case, our country club is not a golf course, he said. Its Winthrop University.
The citys department of Economic and Urban Development and Winthrop split the cost of $75,000 to pay for the research and survey of prospective residents including school alumni and retired faculty and staff and find out what amenities seniors would like to see offered.
An amenity bundle for the retirees could include access to the universitys cultural and sporting events, exhibits and the West Center Winthrops fitness center when the facility is not being used for classes, said Rebecca Masters, university spokesperson.
One possible approach is to structure it something like cable TV services: a basic package for a flat fee, with additional charges for an upgraded package and possible premium add-ons, Masters said. The retirees could bundle services from a menu of options in a way personalized to their interests.
Retirees in the community can also take classes at Winthrop as space allows through the states program that allows people aged 60 and older to participate in college courses for free, Masters said.
Badler said the survey will also gauge how much retirees are willing to pay to live in the community, whether they would like to rent or own their space and if on-site facilities such as a dining room and library are desired. The partnership between the retirement development and the university would also open doors for retirees to volunteer off and on campus and possibly mentor students.
In the past, Badler said Campus Continuum has found that seniors would like to own their own unit in a retirement community. But due to recent economic uncertainty, he said, Rock Hill retirees may say that renting is preferred.
Results of the survey could be ready by late October or November, Badler said.
City staff and the university can then use the results to present options to private developers.
Campus Continuum is not a developer, but Badler said his company does everything possible to get projects off the ground. The firm screens developers and can provide the city and university with contracts from interested developers, he said.
Stephen Turner, executive director of The Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation, said developers will have a range of locations to choose from near the college and downtown. These options include the Bleachery site, 10 to 12 acres of city-owned land at the intersection of Constitution Boulevard and Columbia Avenue, near White Street and 25 acres of land which was formerly used as the fairgrounds, now owned by Winthrop.
The market research underway will allow the city to say to developers, We have real projects, Turner said. We have opportunities come help us.
With the right developer, an active-adult residential community in Rock Hill could be the first of its kind built since the recession, according to Winthrop.
The Rock Hill project differs from others in the nation because there are no plans to provide on-site health care, Badler said. Instead, Campus Continuum is working with area hospitals and nursing homes to provide options for short-term or long-term healthcare for residents in the retirement community.
The average age for people entering assisted living nursing homes is 79-years-old, Badler said. An active-adult community such as the one proposed in Rock Hill attracts a younger crowd between 60 and 72 years old, he said, because residential space is independent living without the presence of nurses.
In addition to the construction and full-time jobs this will create, Turner said. I think an active 55 plus residential community will be an important catalyst for further development and can pave the way as we attract other commercial and residential projects to the area.