The weather was perfect on Aug. 23 and smiles were the order of the day as Rose Villa Senior Living CEO Vassar Byrd cut the big red ribbon and welcomed everyone to the grand reopening of the senior community.
Shortly thereafter, as residents and visitors cheered, the Rex Putnam High School Drumline came marching down Main Street, leading off a parade that included a Viking Longboat float, dog walkers, a beautifully restored classic car, stilt walkers, a juggler and a hula hooper.
Guests were then invited to tour the site, listen to live music, enjoy gourmet snacks, and take in the view of the Willamette River from atop the third floor Vista Lounge in the main building.
Those who remember Rose Villa from its earlier incarnation will be amazed by its new look; it is a project that has taken two years to bring to fruition, at a cost of $60 million.
But "it is not just about the buildings," Byrd told a VIP gathering before the ribbon cutting.
"We think this is an innovative senior-living experience. Our goal was to build a neighborhood where people can live their lives, and it can be every bit as exciting ahead as behind them," she said.
Byrd added that the larger community is welcome on campus, where people can see live performances by the New Century Players in the Performing Arts Center, take a dip in the pool, buy seeds in the garden center and dine at two restaurants, as well as enjoy other amenities.
"We can cater parties or meetings big or small. We are offering a great service to Clackamas County," she said.
Even though the newly reopened Rose Villa Senior Living is the result of her vision, it took a huge team to make it happen, Byrd said. This included two architecture firms, a senior housing consulting company, and a construction company that "made this come out of the ground."
Another crucial piece was financing, and Mary Munoz, managing director of Ziegler Finance, found the bond investors willing to put up the $60 million.
"I've worked on 90 projects, and this is one of two of the most dramatic transformations I've ever seen. I'm proud to be part of this," Munoz said.
Zero curb appeal
Sometimes it takes a crisis to get things done, and that was the situation with Rose Villa about eight years ago, Byrd said. Rose Villa was first built in 1960 and in the 21st century those aging buildings did not look attractive at street level.
"We had to do something; our curb appeal was zero. Senior living is a very competitive field, and we weren't going to survive," she said.
Five years ago, Byrd began meeting with architecture and construction firms, determined to create something new for Rose Villa residents.
"Vassar wanted something different," said Bob Boileau, a principal with Myhre Group Architects.
"She wanted [Rose Villa] to be integrated into the community. So we came up with a collaborative team to figure out the big picture - how to integrate the new into the existing," he said.
His firm developed the master plan as designers, and one of their first steps was to take many of the amenities that are usually found inside a senior community and bring them to the outside.
"This is a mixed-use project," similar in character to Hillsboro's Orenco Station, which his firm also designed, Boileau said.
When community members drive by the new campus, he would like to think that they will see an active Main Street with small shops and urban living spaces above those shops.
"Before, the housing at Rose Villa was all linear, and we wanted to create more open spaces. Now residents can walk up and down and through five pocket neighborhoods, get exercise and have a view of the river," Boileau said.
He added, "We have created a senior-living community like no other."
For Craig Kimmel, senior partner with RLPS Architects, the architecture team tasked with handling the technical aspects of the new design, the challenge was dealing with "aging infrastructure and outdated floor plans."
His firm also had to integrate modern technology into the design in order to provide a system that would best "serve the new buildings and provide technology for everybody."
Now, after two years of construction, Rose Villa is home to "buildings that are state of the art, highly efficient and fit into the Northwest vernacular," he said.
The biggest burden fell on the residents, with construction going on all around them. But "they have come out smiling. At the end of the day, something special is happening here," Kimmel said.
"We came into the middle of a big community with the challenge to do construction while caring for the residents and our people rose to the occasion," said Norm Dowdy, a principal with R & H Construction.
He stressed that there was a lot of communication between his firm and the Rose Villa residents, including "mornings with Wayne," who was the superintendent of construction, Dowdy said.
"Residents could come and ask him questions and get updates. We did not want this to be a negative experience. We wanted the residents to be engaged," he said. "This was an incredible undertaking. It was a large, noisy and invasive project, and I want to thank the residents for their understanding."
"Senior living projects are evolving, senior living is changing, and residents are leading the charge," said Craig Witz, the principal of Witz Company, a senior housing, consulting and development firm.
Rose Villa has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other, he said, noting that when he first saw the site, the buildings reminded him of military barracks.
"Now [Rose Villa] has gone to the other end, with a Main Street and pocket neighborhoods. It is a national model for what is happening in senior living," Witz said.
Two of the final speakers at the VIP event were residents Jean Holznagel, widow of Don Holznagel, former president of the Rose Villa board who worked on the project, and Marna Flaherty-Robb, the current board president.
Her husband died before he could see the grand reopening of Rose Villa, but he was there for the ground-breaking, Holznagel said, while Flaherty-Robb noted that "it takes a whole village to create a whole village."
She added, "We are connected to the community, and if we create this future and live it well, we will be able to keep it vital and age in place."
As she looks back on the years of design and construction, CEO Byrd said that she is most proud of the swimming pool with water slide and the Vista Lounge, with a rooftop garden and view of the Willamette River.
As for challenges, one of the biggest was relocating some residents to other houses on the campus while construction was underway.
"We relocated them at no cost to them, and they were pretty psyched about their new homes. Every single resident was willing to move to help us," Byrd said.
The campus feels cohesive to her now, with all the amenities and multiple things going on, and Byrd is looking ahead to the construction of a new health center, which will likely begin in late 2017 and finish in 2019.
But for now, Byrd said, "It has been amazing. With 100 new people joining us, it has been like a shot of adrenaline. The new residents and existing residents are all finding each other and finding new energy."
Rose Villa Senior Living is located at 13505 S.E. River Road, in Milwaukie.
The community is welcome to come on campus and enjoy the Seeds Garden Center; see live performances at the Performing Arts Center; visit Riverpoint Wellness, including the aquatics center and weight and fitness rooms and Riverpoint salon and spa; see the artwork hanging in the hallway in the main building; check out the view in the Vista Lounge; and eat meals in the Harvest Grill or Heirloom Restaurant.