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Expansion planned for Hamilton retirement community

Don Wall
Expansion planned for Hamilton retirement community
FORREC — The owner of The Village at St. Elizabeth Mills in southern Hamilton, Ont. recruited Canadian theme-park consultant Forrec Inc. to help create a master plan for expansion of the 55-plus community that includes a new town square, retail, recreational and entertainment amenities and up to 3,000 new life lease units.

A boomers and seniors community located in Hamilton, Ont. is getting the theme park treatment with U.S. resort-style master planning introducing a new town square and possibly 3,000 new housing units.

Owner Zest Communities Inc. bought St. Elizabeth Village from a non-profit society in 2014 and set about making plans to transform the community from its current 500 or so units on 114 acres into a retirement community, the likes of which are found only in the U.S.

Based in Toronto, Forrec Ltd., an entertainment design agency, has worked to revamp such international properties as Legoland Japan, Universal Studios and Wanda Movie Park in China.

Now the firm is bent on doing the same to the rechristened Village at St. Elizabeth Mills.

“We see there is absolutely a big business opportunity around retirement living being underserviced,” said Forrec’s director of resorts Eric O’Rourke. “We see there is an opportunity to innovate in this space and change the retirement living model.”

The site is located at Garth Street and Rymal Road in southern Hamilton. The project has been costed at up to $800 million.

O’Rourke said today’s boomers are more demanding than their parents were and are not content with staid old retirement facilities.

“A lot of boomers have the financials to pay for more and they are willing to pay for more,” he said. “We certainly see an opportunity for that generation.

“They are downsizing but they are not downgrading.”

Ontario currently has about 80 active adult lifestyle communities geared to boomers and seniors with many associated with recreational components such as golf courses or marinas. None have been programmed quite like Forrec plans for St. Elizabeth Mills, with an “imagined” past history focused on a nostalgic town square and event planning that will draw in the outside Hamilton community and create “a vibrant destination that encourages fun, mingling and socialization,” as described on the Forrec website.

Forrec has experience with the mature market, with a project at The Villages in Florida in its portfolio.

Final figures for the number of units to be built have not been determined, as the owner is currently negotiating scope with the City of Hamilton. Estimates are for 2,000 to 3,000 new housing units in life lease garden homes, low-rise condo buildings or assisted living housing.

The plan also calls for a retail component fronting the street along Rymal Road as well as a theatre and health care elements.

“The social heart will be the town square, that is the heartbeat and social hub of the development,” said O’Rourke.

Discussing the Rymal frontage, he said, “It’s important to give the development a face, to bring in outside guests. We want to be open and welcoming to the residents of Hamilton.”

O’Rourke suggested there would be two levels of programming.

“When you’re retired, you’re looking to fill precious free time,” he said. “There will be hard programmed events, we are working with the owners and recommending a full program of events to draw in outside guests, but through the day there are light activities that allow people (residents) that social interaction.”

Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead said he has spoken to the owners and encouraged them to maintain the human touch with residents as the community expands.

“I am quite excited about it,” he said, noting his ward has one of the highest populations of seniors in the city. “More and more there is a call for this type of facility.”

Other firms retained by Zest to assist in master planning include Zock & Associates, life lease consultant and project manager; Maple Reinders Construction, construction manager; Reinders + Rieder, architects and engineers; GSP Group, planners; 52 Pick-Up, marketing consultant; and Figure3, interior designer.

Sales of the first new residential phase, Upper Mill Pond, were launched last year with ground-breaking expected this year.

City of Hamilton planning department senior project manager Yvette Rybensky said the development application the city has received, for a four- to six-storey building with 157 units and a 902-square-metre clubhouse with recreational facilities, was supported as a medium-density campus-style development within the Neighbourhoods designation in the city’s official plan.

The Zest website suggests construction on the first phase of the town square could start within the next two years.

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