On a typical drizzly Northwest fall day, groups of seniors were gathered in a common area at the new development, Heron’s Key.
It’s one of Gig Harbor’s largest — a $145 million community of apartment and cottage-style living units.
Residents eat dinner either together in common restaurants and kitchens sprinkled throughout the property or in their own rooms with food they’ve cooked themselves.
One night, a fellow resident remarked to Sharon Hanson, “I feel like I’m living in a really fancy hotel.”
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It’s easy to see why. A worker at a concierge desk directs residents to entertainment, arranges transportation and answers questions.
The property at 4340 Borgen Blvd. includes amenities standard at many high-end hotels: a workout room, salon and spa, an art room, library and a cleaning service. Walking trails lead to a nearby forest.
Once Heron’s Key fills, Gig Harbor could have another 500 residents — and this is just the first phase, with 184 apartments and 10 duplexes, along with 36 assisted living suites and 45 skilled nursing units. Heron’s Key has room to grow on its 18 acres.
Just in time, too. As members of the the Baby Boomer generation march toward retirement, they are starting to downsize from family homes to smaller apartments and condos.
By 2029, all Baby Boomers will be at least 65. They need places to live, and Gig Harbor consistently rates among the top communities in the state to retire.
A NEW IDEA LOCALLY
Heron’s Key is what’s known as a continuing care retirement community. Popular on the East Coast and in California, the concept is relatively unknown in Washington.
People move in when they are entering their retirement years and might need little care.
Hereon’s Key is geared toward middle to high-income seniors, who often sell their homes to afford the costs.
Residents pay an entrance fee based on the size and style of their apartment. Fees start at $248,000 for the first resident and $32,000 for a second. Of the entrance fee, 75 percent is refundable upon departure or death.
Residents also pay a monthly fee, starting at $2,823 for the first person and $1,112 for the second.
There’s a small annual cost increase but monthly fees don’t increase as residents age, their health declines and they need greater care at Heron’s Key assisted living and skilled nursing units.
The model means residents can reliably budget for future costs, said Jim Antonucci, the facility’s executive director.
“I know my costs are going to be capped on Day 1 of my care needs, even if they go up or go down — and they never go down,” he said.
The first residents moved into Heron’s Key in September and it expects 60 percent of its 194 independent living to fill by year’s end.
About 15 percent of its current 151 residents are from out-of-state, said Lisa Hardy, president and CEO of Emerald Communities, Heron’s Key’s nonprofit parent company.
MAKING THE MOVE
Sara Friesen is move-in coordinator for Heron’s Key and began her work 18 months before it opened. She guides future residents through selling their homes, downsizing and deciding what belongings to bring with them.
“Sometimes it starts with a conversation about a floor plan, when we have to think about all of our treasures and the steps they are going to take,” she said. “Our goal is to have a really smooth transition.”
Many residents have planned much of their lives for retirement, Hardy said. Most are professionals: professors, engineers, airline pilots.
“We actually have one rocket scientist moving in,” she said. “Most of our residents are coming from 4,000-square-foot homes to 1,500-square-foot apartments.”
That change can be jarring, especially for those who built a lifetime of memories around their home.
“We ask them, ‘Where do you actually live in your house,’ ” Hardy said. “Your kids are gone and you don’t actually need that space.”
Many of the property’s common areas will replace what residents typically had in their homes.
A team from Heron’s Key meets with potential residents and family members to examine the family dynamic and make sure a future resident is interested in the move, Antonucci said.
Asking a parent to consider moving into such a community is a hard conversation, he said.
“It’s getting families who never talk about it to talk about it for the first time.”
Al Hanson wanted to choose where to retire, rather than saddle his children with the burden of finding him a place, as he had to do with his parents.
“I’ve been involved in senior housing as a builder for 35 years and I know the needs of seniors. I didn’t expect to be one one day,” he quipped from a cozy foyer. “It’s difficult to know when to make that move: When is that time?”
“It has to feel right,” chimed in Gail Bierman, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
Bierman and her daughter visited Heron’s Key to get more information and she left writing a check.
“I wasn’t going to live with my daughter and granddaughter because I’m the ruler,” she said. “It doesn’t turn out that way.”