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Revitalizing cities with senior-oriented communities

May 1, 2008
by Richard L. Peck, Editor-in-Chief
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Interview with Kenyon Morgan, AIA, NCARB


It was a wide-ranging discussion at the Environments for Aging Conference in March—a couple dozen architects, planners, senior service providers, and government officials talking about nearly every aspect of “urban revitalization” as applied to senior environments. One of the “natural leaders” of the discussion turned out to be Kenyon Morgan, an Oklahoma City-based architect and development consultant specializing in developing senior environments throughout Oklahoma and Arkansas. One of his most recent achievements is a work-in-progress called Legacy Village, now under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas (the home of Wal-Mart) and scheduled to open later this year. Morgan and his partners are consciously attempting to apply the principles of a school of thought known as the New Urbanism to senior environments. Recently he discussed the project and its broader implications with Long-Term Living Editor-in-Chief Richard L. Peck.

Peck: How did you get involved in this type of senior housing development?

Morgan: We are actually two small firms: one is an architectural design firm—Kenyon Morgan Architects—and the other is a development consulting firm—Prime Time Environments—focusing on nonprofits interested in expanding their campuses and services. Nonprofits have great operating abilities but many are not completely geared up to get adequate financing for these projects. We assist nonprofits with master planning, financing, marketing, tax credits, and federal program support.

Peck: What is the status of Legacy Village?

Morgan: It started with 35 garden homes, all sited and designed with New Urbanism principles in mind (see sidebar), and now we are adding to the site six, 10-unit Green Houses. These, interestingly enough, are licensed as assisted living because a certificate of need was not available for skilled nursing. The garden homes and the Green Houses are designed with elevated front porches overlooking the street, laid out in an urban grid pattern, rather than suburban cul-de-sacs, all of which is designed to encourage pedestrian traffic (and if kids want to ride by on their bikes, that's fine too). The 48-acre project is designed for walkers, not cars; garages are located out of the way in the back. The clubhouse was built first, but not in the center of the site, as they usually are, but rather at the intersection of two major pedestrian pathways. This makes a statement: This community is turned outward to the city, not inward upon itself.

Peck: Is the project located in an interesting neighborhood?

Morgan: Legacy Village is adjacent to the new Chrystal Bridges Museum of American Art being developed by the (Sam) Walton family. The museum is located on 100 acres of park land, with lots of walking paths connecting it with Legacy Village and the courthouse square in downtown Bentonville. Residents will have ready access to art, as well as various volunteer activities and educational opportunities.

Peck: Are there provisions for retail on the site?

Morgan: Part of the site has been designated for retail—shops, bistros, and the like—but it isn't there yet. That's one of the problems for this type of development—which comes first, the retail or the residents? In this case, it's the residents first. In any event, this can take some years to work out.

Peck: Are there other projects that have inspired you in this direction?

Morgan: Probably the best I've seen is a CCRC called Avalon Square in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It is located downtown, on a block next to a major retail area, and occupies the entire block with a four-story structure. It has first-floor retail underneath the senior living apartments. They actually started with two historic downtown buildings, renovating one and removing the historic faĉade from the other, renovating its interior, and reattaching the faĉade.

Another project I've liked is a seniors-only (over 50) wellness center in Rogers, Arkansas. Within six months of its opening a year and a half ago, it had 900 participants a day. It's located next to an old, deteriorating shopping center, and this was done to help revive that retail area. It seems to be working.

Peck: What's next for Legacy Village?

Morgan: The garden homes and the Green Houses will open this year. We did have senior cooperative apartments planned as a third phase, but the Bentonville area is overbuilt for that sort of thing so we'll wait a while. Interestingly, a significant part of this project is affordable, low-income housing, with two of the six Green Houses in that category. It isn't easy coordinating the tax credits, federal home loan funding, and Medicaid, but we've been able to bring the affordable facilities in at a rate of about $500 a month. We're fortunate in having an excellent partner in the Northwest Arkansas Senior Services organization, a start-up firm for nonprofits that has an excellent record working with the state. They also built the first affordable assisted living in the state. The National Cooperative Bank (NCB) is a partner, too.

Peck: How do you see the New Urbanism evolving in senior environments?

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