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Best of Assisted Living Design 2014: The Boutique 'Hotel'

Senior Housing News

February 18th 2015

Nobody knows the ebbs and flows of the economy like Eugene, Oregon-based Waterford Grand.

Looking at the community today - with its elegant finishes, upscale amenities and a fresh design perspective - you may not know it has been more than seven years in the making.

While the economic downturn forced Waterford Grand's development team to delay construction for years, the community prevailed, and now takes shape in the style of a boutique hotel, as some industry architects define it.

Despite only being open since September 2014, the community, operated by Portland, Oregon-based BPM Senior Living Company, is getting noticed - and may set a trend for developments in the future.

With 140 units consisting of various styles and options for independent, assisted living and memory care residents, Waterford Grand is well-positioned as a miniature continuing care retirement community (CCRC), says Dan Cinelli, principal and director of international architecture firm Perkins Eastman.

"When residents move into assisted living, it's a slippery slope," says Cinelli, one of the judges for the 2014 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Awards . "But to have a mini CCRC that has independent living, assisted living and memory care - I think this is going to be a trend moving forward, where you're going to see more of these smaller-sized CCRCs."

While Waterford's levels of care distinguish it from other stand-alone assisted living communities, its organic design, coupled with high-end finishes and a focus on wellness, make it a standout among the rest.

The Concept
Situated along the banks of Oregon's Willamette River, Waterford Grand was designed, inside and out, to foster a sense of wellness and connectedness with nature.

While Eugene is best known as the Emerald City, it's also known as Track Town U.S.A., having an abundance of recreational opportunities available, including bicycling, running, jogging, rafting and kayaking.

The location, in particular, was one of the driving factors behind building Waterford Grand.

"Our residents live along the picturesque Willamette River, have access to walking and bike paths and public transportation, and are minutes from shopping, the University of Oregon, restaurants and medical care," says Dennis Parfitt, president of BPM Senior Living.

This active/outdoor theme is carried through in Waterford's design and architecture.

"The concept was really to bring wellness into the design," says Raymond Yancey, principal of Portland-based Myhre Group Architects, which designed the project. "It was about making sure that the views and the connections to that surrounding area were provided for residents."

Indoor-outdoor features, such as a pool and massage salon, encourage residents to make use of amenities that tie in the outside environment. Additionally, a custom water fountain with changing LED lights - as well as a labyrinth, riverside terrace and a fire pit - invite residents to step outside and interact with nature.

A connectedness with nature is also reflected in the materials used and interior decor of the community, creating a cohesive design that flows seamlessly inside and out.

Natural materials, sculptures with live plants and even the fabrics on the chairs and carpets give off an organic feel, Cinelli says.

"It feels really fresh - it's not just layered on the outside and then you go back to 1960 on the inside," he says. "This was a cohesive, fresh design that, both inside and outside, holds together really well."

Not only is the design cohesive, but it also fits in well with its location in Eugene, reflecting the style and context of that area.

"It fits into the vernacular of Eugene and [was] very much driven by its context - by the kind of vocabulary one might expect to find in that part of the U.S.," says Eugene Guszkowski, president of AG Architecture and one of the judges of the 2014 SHN awards competition.

However, the project's design wasn't completed without some significant challenges along the way. Waterford Grand has had a long history, despite only being open for five months.

Myhre Group Architects started working on the project in 2007, preceding arguably one of the worst times in U.S. history for real estate and development. Because of the timing, the development team had to completely rethink the design of the project.

"It originally was conceived of as an independent living project. It was going to be 100% independent living and then the economy changed," Yancey says. "We were through schematic design and pretty far along, but when the economy changed, the client decided that wasn't possible to proceed with, because the demand for independent living went away."

Instead, the team came up with the idea to build a mixture of independent living, assisted living and memory care units to accommodate the changing market. Now, the community houses 22 independent living apartments, 74 assisted living units, and 44 studios and 10 semi-private memory care units.

Making these changes, though, disrupted the community's entire design and led to its own set of challenges.

"When the design was converted to a licensed project, we had to integrate requirements like utilities and nurse stations to accommodate the needs of the assisted living and memory care residents," Yancey says. "Memory care is a much different unit type - they're typically smaller and they don't have kitchens, so those were taken out of the designs."

Additionally, Myhre Group had to design large common spaces into the memory care wing, placing them in two sections of about 25 units, so as to scale down the size of the community for those residents.

The Construction
The development team broke ground on Waterford Grand in August 2013 and began moving residents into their homes in September 2014. The entire project budget was $32.5 million and First Republic Bank provided construction financing.

Originally, the team was considering securing a loan through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the the project, but when the economy tanked, many groups were looking to HUD for financing, which slowed down the loan process, Yancey says. Instead, as the economy improved, the team secured private financing and moved forward with construction plans.

But before construction could start, Waterford faced another steep hurdle: opposition from competitors.

"There were some jurisdictional appeals going on and some opposition to the project," Yancey says. "The city and the neighbors were in support, but there were some [providers in the area] that didn't want to see competition coming in, so that caused some delay in the project."

However, BPM Senior Living was confident in the project and knew that it was filling a need in Eugene.

"After researching the needs of the area, we felt Waterford Grand would meet an unmet need in the community and region for elegant senior living and excellent care," Parfitt says.

In developing an elegant and sophisticated space, designers looked to high-end finishes in order to achieve that aesthetic.

During the economic downturn, the development team had scaled back the level of finishes it had originally built into the community's design. However, as the economy continued to improve, they added many of those finishes back into the design.

Residents now enjoy features that include wooden cabinetry, granite countertops, custom tile inlays, tile flooring, energy-efficient appliances and fireplaces within independent and assisted living units.

Amenities were also added and enhanced, including the pool, which looks out on the river, has a wheelchair access ramp and can accommodate water aerobics classes and "dive-in" movie showings.

Other common space amenities include a fine dining restaurant, bistro cafe, health and wellness center, theater, conference rooms, private dining and a multipurpose room.

Additionally, the community's custom water fountain has become a centerpiece of the riverfront patio. It uses 200 water jets, which can spout 30 feet into the air, and, after meals and at sunset, the fountain performs a water and lights show.

"As the market study was being updated to understand what was possible in the market, the [team] started adding a lot of those original amenities back in, and finishes were a big component of that," Yancey says.

The Completion
While the community is still in its fill-up stage, there is a "steady flow of new residents joining the community each month," Parfitt says. "We are very pleased about how leasing has gone to date."

Rates for units at Waterford Grand vary based on residents' needs. Typically monthly leases range from $2,850 to $4,700 for independent living units; $3,600 to $5,300 for assisted living; and $4,700 to $5,950 for memory care.

The project comprises about 120,000 square feet and has three stories, with the ground level housing memory care residents and the upper two stories housing assisted and independent living residents.

Despite all the challenges along the way, Waterford Grand has persevered and set itself apart from the competition.

"With Waterford Grand, we have created an elegant resort atmosphere, with first-class services and amenities, and the very best in health care," Parfitt says.

Through its fresh, cohesive and elegant designs, Waterford is far from resembling what some may consider a traditional assisted living facility, Yancey says.

"BPM Senior Living was really looking to stand out in the market and provide something that was not what you would expect from this type of project. If you're looking for assisted living for a family member, this would certainly be much different from what the rest of the market could provide," he says.

It's continuum-like services and overall design contribute to a comfortable yet sophisticated environment, which Cinelli says gives it the feeling of a boutique hotel. And Yancey agrees.

"It was that upscale, wellness, boutique, hospitality [inspiration] that was driving the ideas behind how the building was designed and its finishes," Yancey adds. "Even when you look at the salon, the pool, the wellness areas, the dining, the views, the connection to the river - all of that feeds into the hospitality idea that was trying to be threaded through all the aspects of the design."