Although the Baby Boom generation is just beginning to turn gray at the temples, Washington developer Melvin Berman is betting $15 million that its urban, upscale members will want to retire in style in the communities where they live and work.
When the time comes, Berman said he hopes to be ready with hundreds of luxury apartments in planned retirement high-rise buildings that will offer more than just a place to live.
His Alexandria company, Retirement Community Developers Inc., unveiled a 200-unit apartment building in Silver Spring this week, dubbed Charter House, that company officials said is the first of several high-rise retirement projects it is planning to develop in the Washington area.
"Demographics indicated a lot of people moving into that market," Berman said. "Statistics prove that 85 percent of the people retire in a place where they have spent their adulthood as opposed to the Sun Belt or some other place."
The company purchased the building, at 1316 Fenwick La. in Silver Spring's highly developed business district, last June. Substantial renovations have included adding such amenities as a rooftop greenhouse and a fitness center, a beauty/barber shop and a club room with a whirlpool bath.
Part of a second-floor parking deck has been converted into a huge lounge with a separate meeting room and activity center, a library and a 120-seat dining room. A large all-glass Florida room also has been added on a fourth-floor terrace.
The "residency fee" for studio apartments will start at about $1,000 a month, while two-bedroom units with two baths and a balcony will rent for slightly more than $2,000 a month, including utilities, according to George D. Randels, a company vice president.
The fee will include such services as weekly housekeeping, a dietetic consultant, a 24-hour nurse and an emergency call system. A minivan will be available to take residents to local stores, medical centers, area churches and to the Silver Spring subway stop about three blocks away, Randels said.
The fee also includes such programs as a weekly cinema, arts classes, a health clinic, and regular golf, museum and antique outings, according to a company brochure.
Eighty units are available now, the common facilities will be completed by Sept. 1 and the remaining units will be phased in during the next 12 months or so, the developers indicated. Twenty-four units are on hold or have been leased, and more than 2,000 inquiries have been received, they added.
"Conceptually, this is not the first retirement community of its kind , but it's a very young industry," Randels said. "We're looking seriously at two other projects in the Washington area and we're looking at other markets, although nothing is under contract yet."
The project, known as "congregate housing" in the industry, is a less-structured alternative to nursing homes and so-called "life care," housing developments that usually are operated by nonprofit groups and require large up-front payments plus monthly fees. Life-care homes normally include medical services and a guaranteed bed in a nursing home, if it is needed.
"We thought a pay-as-you-go approach made more sense," Randels said. "Only 20 percent of the people over 65 will ever see the inside of a nursing home, anyway."
The project also is expected to be a major boost in the long-planned revitalization of downtown Silver Spring, according to Bea Chaney, executive director of the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce.
"We're talking about people with disposable income, which is good for restaurants and retail businesses," she said. "The development is a shot in the arm for the revitalization effort."
"Silver Spring is on the way back, and we're glad to be part of it," Randels said. "The elderly population there is greater by a factor of two than any other part of Montgomery County. This is where our market is."
The company says that the project is within five blocks of 174 doctors' offices, 11 banks, three department stores, 37 restaurants and six covenience food stores, in addition to other shops and services.
The Silver Spring business district traditionally has had a high crime rate, but company officials say they have taken steps to bolster security. The building will include a doorman and front-desk attendant during the day when the door is unlocked, and a security guard at night. The building also will have remote cameras and a card-key access system, according to company officials