Daughters make sure seniors live in style at Origin Evergreen
This article appeared in the Toronto Star writtin by Susan Pigg
When devoted daughter Lynda Cowan calls, developer Neil Prashad listens – and so do many of his colleagues, who credit baby boomer daughters, and daughters-in-law, with helping revolutionize the way their parents are living and aging.
Women like Cowan are known in seniors' housing circles as "key influencers." Walk into almost any new retirement development and you will see their impact, whether it's in elegant seniors' units boasting hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances or on-site fine dining restaurants serving up Sunday brunch as well as the odd lobster and steak dinner.
"They are more apt to want their parents to have the very best than we've ever seen before," says Prashad, a 20-year veteran of the seniors' housing market, as well as chief executive officer of Mississauga's newest "active aging community," Origin Evergreen.
"The industry used to have three paint schemes – green, beige and more beige," Prashad says. Instead, for the first time, he incorporated a decor centre into Origin Evergreen so the first renters and condo buyers had a wide range of paint, appliance and finish options to choose among before they moved in last year. Some even ordered replicas of the chic show units, decorator decor and all.
"We find the kids are spending a lot on upgrades and adult daughters are coming in and saying, 'Mom, you've always wanted granite, why don't you have it now?'"
The reason is simple, says Cowan, a Mississauga real estate agent who searched for five months before falling in love with Origin. The two-hectare apartment and condo development at Hurontario St. and Eglinton Ave. W. has 300 units and Cowan was especially wowed by its smorgasbord of services – from a '50s-style diner and bowling alley to an on-site spa and salt-water pool touted as being easier on blue rinses than all that nasty chlorine.
"I wanted to extend her life," says Cowan, who spent $22,000 on upgrades to the $270,000 condo (she figures the unit, with one bedroom and a small den, is now worth well over $300,000). She had the kitchen rearranged to make it easier for her 74-year-old mother, Ina McPeak, to get around on her scooter.
"Mom didn't want me to spend the money and she doesn't like a lot of frills. She wasn't brought up that way," Cowan says. "But a lot of kids want to give back to their parents and retirement living doesn't get any better than this. You should be pampered, you should have the quality of life you deserve right until the end."
"Active aging" has become the new buzzword of an industry that's now running to keep up with baby boomers and their aged parents. Many of these adult kids are well-heeled professionals who are walking into retirement development open houses with their eyes firmly fixed on the future – their parents' and their own.
"Kids my age – I'm pushing 50 – are telling us, 'This is what I want and what I don't want,'" says Brian Bradley, president of Hearthstone Communities Services Ltd.
His company builds luxurious developments in Burlington and on Etobicoke's waterfront that Bradley likens more to resorts than retirement homes, given that they include à la carte offerings of everything from personal trainers and yoga classes to shuttle buses that can ferry residents to shopping, the theatre or on a Niagara winery tour.
"In the '90s, when we were building a retirement home, we would ask ourselves, 'What would be good for our mother?' Now, we're asking, `What do we want as we get older,'" Bradley says. "Some kids are buying with a notion to take the unit over when their parents die."
Prashad credits daughters and daughters-in-law for not settling for second-best and pushing developers to make their parents' golden years as bright as possible.
Cowan's twin sister heads the complex's gardening club and Cowan became secretary of the complex's board, pushing hard to make the place feel more like home.
"Mom just gives me little hints of things that she and her friends talk about and I bring them to the board meeting," Cowan says.
"Adult daughters and daughter-in-laws have very high expectations of service," Prashad adds with a sly smile. "We recognize that if you don't embrace them, they could make your life hell."
The next phase in the evolution of retirement communities will be location, location, location, developers agree.
"I want to be one of the first guys to do something in Toronto's entertainment district," Prashad says. "I think it's still 10 years away but, at some point, there's going to be enough well-heeled, aging boomers who will want to live downtown and go to the opera, to the theatre, to restaurants. It won't just be about living in the suburbs where the adult kids are."
Origin's first project opened in 2008 in Nanaimo, B.C. and an 82-unit project is planned for Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Canadian developers have a ways to go to catch up with U.S. developers. There, some 60 universities have partnered with retirement communities, such as the exclusive Classic Residence by Hyatt hotels, to offer residents – many of them alumnae – access to golf courses, college sporting events, lifelong learning programs and, in many cases, cutting-edge research hospitals.
In fact, Origin Evergreen would seem more hotel than retirement home if it weren't for the woman dragging her walker across the tiled lobby in what looks like a physio session or the smiling senior – her hair as white as her terry robe – returning from the hugely popular Aquafit program. There is a nurse on-site for those requiring minimal medical care but most of the staff are from the hotel and hospitality industry.
Residents like Rose McCurdy and her fellow "Knotty Knitters" are just off the bustling lobby, whipping up a pile of blankets to send off to Haiti. Nearby, seniors are kibitzing over coffee and sandwiches in the Garden Café. The Windows Bar is surprisingly quiet, except on karaoke night or when the kids and grandkids come to watch the game on the big-screen TV.
Next month, The Winery, a 16-seat restaurant, is set to open, pairing Ontario wines with fine food and quelling demands, it's hoped, from residents asking for steak and lobster.
"What's unique here is the wide array of amenities," Prashad says. "We are really selling the cruise, not the cabin. The notion is that you're really going to enjoy everything that happens outside your suite."
Susan Pigg focuses on issues around aging and baby boomers. She can be reached at email@example.com
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