Spas and gourmet meals: Boomers see retirement communities in urban new light

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Construction workers bustle in the front bistro in the clubhouse of The Cardinal

RALEIGH — Bill Burkhardt, 79, is still hustling. Spending more time in airports and business meetings than doctor’s offices, he doesn’t expect shuffleboard to be a big part of his retirement. He is part of a growing group of older North Carolinians looking for an urban answer to retirement living: upscale finishes, with multiple flexible dining options, wine tastings and spa services, within walking distance to top-ranked restaurants and boutique shopping, but still with medical services from rehab to memory care. Mitch Brown, Chief Development Officer for Kisco Senior Living, says the perks are actually demands from baby boomers shopping for their parents with an eye toward how they want to retire. With 76 million baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964 in the U.S., setting trends as they age is nothing new.”It’s the idea that’s called a self-determined life,” said Brown. “It’s not enough just to sort of accept the status quo. I want to leave foot tracks everywhere I go. “For example, I love to cook, so I’m going to want to put on my apron and sharpen my knives and get on the backside of the counter, not just be taken care of. It’s the notion that I want to determine what I do and what I need.”Burkhardt has zeroed in on The Cardinal at North Hills, slated to start welcoming residents in January 2017. Costing between between $3,800 and $8,000 a month in a lease, plus a partially refundable entrance fee, depending on how many bedrooms and how much customization the resident wants. About two-thirds of the 165 units are already reserved at the Cardinal.”There is a customer that wants to stay urban,” said Burkhardt. “I’m out in the community doing a lot of the same things I’ve always done, meeting different obligations, social and work. Now I’m meeting my need for apartment life too, but at the same time addressing my need for later medical care.”North Carolina has consistently ranked among the best places to retire in the nation because of cost of living and weather. A growing tech sector and health care means retirees’ kids and grandkids can make N.C. their home. Brown says about 60 percent of the residents are from outside of Raleigh, often outside the state. They call the retirees here “halfbacks” saying they often retire from the north to Florida, but as they age their children bring them to N.C. when they are working and raising grandchildren.”This trend is happening across the country,” said Brown, noting that a facility similar to The Cardinal is under construction in midtown Manhattan. “Your churches are here, your social life is here, your network is here, your children are mostly here. Why would you want to be uprooted and shipped out to wherever?”For Burkardt it’s all about family. His two sons, their wives and his three grandchildren live in Raleigh. He already tried to retire once after serving as the CEO of Austin Quality Foods, but it didn’t suit him and now he’s back at work. He thinks this upscale, urban, rental approach will make a successful retirement, even if he has no intention of slowing down.”It’s more like today’s lifestyle where you can rent Uber,” he said. “I have a full care medical facility in the neighborhood where I’d like to live. When Bill can no longer take care of Bill, he needs to be in Raleigh where his kids are.”