Don't just sit there: Never a dull moment at today’s 55-and-up communities
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When the live band cranks out Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes, dance parties feature line dancing instead of waltzes, and the weekly piano bar singalong is more likely to include songs by Elton John than Cole Porter, you know you’re in the new version of a community for people 55 and up.
Baby boomers, who have driven lifestyle changes for decades, are now turning retirement communities into places where they can keep the party going.
In the 14 years since she started working at the active-adult community formerly known as Leisure World, the trend among residents is away from sedentary activities and toward more energetic pursuits, says Donaliece Carey, director of community activities at Lansdowne Woods in Lansdowne, Va.
“I think it’s mostly about the more youthful attitude of our residents, but the median age of residents is also trending down a little, too,” Carey says.
Carol Cutrona, a resident at Lansdowne Woods for the past seven years, didn’t anticipate the level of social activity before she moved there.
“Within a week, I was firmly entrenched in the community and involved with the entertainment group,” Cutrona says. “Many of our residents are blessed with talent — we have singers, dancers, writers and actors who love to perform. We also have a loyal audience of residents who love to be entertained.”
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Cutrona, a published author of a historical Civil War novel, writes much of the material for performances with a team of other residents. She is also involved with the activities committee and a Civil War group.
“As a former social worker, I know how important the social relationships we have are to residents,” she says. “It’s also perfectly acceptable to be quiet here if you want.”
Maddie Usera, a resident at Celebrate by Del Webb in Fredericksburg, Va., for the past four years, says she and her husband call the community a “Club Med” for active adults.
“There are so many social clubs and events that people can be busy every hour here,” Usera says. “There are card games and board games every hour, cooking classes, art studios, and a lot of people here have a performing arts background.”
Usera says residents have formed two rock bands, including one with a talented female drummer in high demand to perform with the professional bands who visit the community.
“There are lines to get into the rock shows, the choir performances and the Friday night line-dancing parties,” Usera says. “During the dance parties, they set up cornhole outside so people can play when they want a break from dancing.”
Designed for social life
New communities for people 55 and older are anticipated to open in 2018, including Birchwood at Brambleton and the Crest in Alexandria, says Brooks Sears, general sales manager for Van Metre Homes, which is developing the two communities. In addition, phase two of the villas at the Signature at Broadlands will begin sales.
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“Three builders are at Birchwood, which will be a large community with 1,500 homes,” Sears says. “There will be a 20,000-square-foot clubhouse with social rooms, game rooms, a catering kitchen, a golf simulator and outdoor kitchens, too, plus activities like book clubs and cooking lessons.”
The clubhouse design at Birchwood will be different from older active adult communities, says Kathy Sain, vice president of sales for Van Metre.
“The typical active adult clubhouse used to be like a big gym, but now we have a different spin, with rooms for yoga and a younger, more vibrant setting,” Sain says. “We’ll offer different activities, including things like wine tastings and cooking classes.”
Fire pits, outdoor kitchens with pizza ovens and an herb garden will be among the amenities at the Crest, which will also have a yoga lawn and a dog park, says Karen Edmmons, general sales manager of the Crest at Alexandria.
“Today’s active adult buyers are different,” says Glenn Forester, vice president of marketing for Van Metre. “The majority of our buyers are still working and they want to be close to their friends and to culture, great restaurants and wineries.”
At Regency at Dominion Valley, a Toll Brothers community in Haymarket open since the early 2000s, the social activities coordinator keeps everyone busy on site and with local trips.
“The New Year’s Eve party last year sold out in a few hours and we had a waiting list for a White House tour, too,” says Jason Crimson, senior project manager of Toll Brothers in Haymarket, Va. “Every activity sells out, including trips to Nationals games and art museums.”
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Toll Brothers recently opened Creekside, another 55-and-older community in Haymarket, which will have similar activities to Dominion Valley, including wine tastings and frequent trips to local wineries.
“Dominion Valley has evolved over time and has an activities committee that comes up with new ideas based on what residents want,” Crimson says. “There are weekly happy hours, often with music and entertainment, pool parties, outdoor concerts and cooking classes.”
Food, wine and music
Gourmet food and wine are essential to many buyers in active adult communities today, says Samantha Reid, communications manager of 55Places.com in Chicago.
“Demonstration kitchens for chefs and cooking classes are popular amenities in a lot of communities,” Reid says. “At Trilogy in Orlando, they have a ‘culinary garden’ where residents can grow produce and learn how to cook it. Wine tastings, wine clubs and wine appreciation events are common, too.”
Reid says she’s seen an increase in the number of communities that offer cooking classes and other food or wine-related activities since about 2010, which she says appeal in particular to younger baby boomers.
“At Trilogy at Lake Frederick [in Virginia], we decided to raise the bar on the dining options for residents, so we decided to build a fine-dining option and open it to the general public, as well as residents,” says Jason King, general manager of Shea Homes at Trilogy at Lake Frederick. “By opening it to the public, we knew we’d have to offer a restaurant that could stand on its own and provide exceptional food and service.”
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The fine-dining restaurant at Lake Frederick, called Region’s 117, is in the Shenandoah Lodge and Athletic Club, which has two additional dining options and a bar reserved for residents.
“The bar is a happening spot, with happy hours, pool tables, a golf simulator and gathering areas,” King says. “We also have a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes and wine tastings. We even do simulcasts of chef demonstrations at other Trilogy communities while our on-site culinary team prepares the same meal for residents.”
Cooking classes are held frequently at Celebrate, Jankowski says, and the wine tasting club became so popular that they now have four separate clubs to accommodate everyone.
“We organize trips to wineries often and next year a group is going to Spain,” Jankowski says.
Residents at Celebrate organize Halloween parties with everyone in costume and Oscar night parties with guests dressing up to participate in “red carpet” interviews.
Musical and performance groups are common at larger active adult communities, Reid says.
“At Trilogy, we have a lakeside amphitheater for concerts and we have lots of musical groups and artists who use our studio spaces,” King says.
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At Lansdowne Woods, Carey says, performing arts groups have written, directed and produced variety shows with skits and music, with the resident tap dancers a big highlight of the show. She says residents also plan off-site trips to restaurants and theaters, along with “adventure trips,” such as a one-day trip to Chicago in which a group took an overnight train, explored the city and then returned the next night on another overnight train.
Alina Dawson, wellness and fitness director at Lansdowne Woods, says that the younger residents are particularly aware of the importance of staying active. Those residents tend to organize outings and dance parties and attend yoga classes to have fun while moving around instead of sitting still.
“Sometimes activities are just purely social,” Reid says. “You see communities with a ‘Men’s Lunch Club’ or a ‘Singles Club’ that just plans outings and parties for groups within the development.”
For many residents of 55-and-older communities, the array of clubs and things to do are just an excuse to make new friends.
Bill Moore, who began attending group activities even before he and his wife, Lois, moved to Trilogy at Lake Frederick, says, “There’s no such thing as a 15-minute walk here — it takes more than an hour to go for a little walk because there are so many times we stop and talk to all our neighbors.”
Numerous studies show that maintaining social relationships and avoiding isolation as people age improves their emotional and physical health. Active adult communities can make it easier to find time, friends and new ways to have fun.