LGBT retirement community opens doors in Santa Rosa
Standing on the second-floor patio of what will soon be his new apartment, John Kennedy had a ready answer for his move next month to the new Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa.
"This place just felt right," said Kennedy, a retired college educator from San Francisco who was enjoying a view west to distant, forested hills.
Kennedy was among more than 600 future residents, elected officials and visitors who attended last week's gala opening of the three-story hillside lodge. The facility is billed as the nation's first gay and lesbian retirement community with continuing care.
The developer of the upscale project, Oakmont Senior Living, received considerable praise Wednesday from local politicians and other guests for a providing a luxury resort-like community tailored for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
"This is just beyond anybody's dreams," said Beth Reed, a Novato resident who has long followed the lodge's progress and intends to move there one day.
Reed, 70, said she and other lesbian and gay friends have talked for years about the need for such a project.
"None of us have any kids," she said. "Who's going to take care of us?"
Visitors extolled the details of the $52 million project. The craftsman-style lodge features 64 spacious apartments and six nearby bungalows, a theater with 22-plush leather chairs, a wine cellar, a pool and a second-floor dining room where residents can look south at Taylor Mountain.
State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, told guests the wood-and-stone lodge reminded her of Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel. "It's that beautiful," she said.
The Santa Rosa company's leaders, longtime builders Bill and Cindy Gallaher, already have developed roughly three dozen senior projects around the state. They continue to own and manage a dozen facilities, including the Varenna community in the same Fountaingrove neighborhood.
The company employs about 1,000 workers and has a half-dozen more projects in the works, including in Folsom, Fresno and Alameda.
"We've had no shortage of investors," said Bill Gallaher. His wife Cindy added that a number of investors live at Varenna.
An expert in senior housing gave the company high marks for pursuing a potentially significant market, even as most developers since the recession have stuck to "cookie cutter" assisted-living projects.
"They are exactly doing the smarter play," said Andrew J. Carle, an assistant professor and the executive-in-residence for the senior housing program at George Mason University. "They are separating themselves out from everybody else."
Eighty percent of long-term care in the U.S. is now given by family members, Carle said. But many baby boomers will have to find other alternatives because of smaller families and because fewer younger women now stay at home and, when needed, can serve as caregivers.
Gays and lesbians often lack children to provide their long-term care, making them a natural market for senior facilities, Carle said. Also, people generally are willing to travel a considerable distance to join an "affinity" community, giving places like Fountaingrove Lodge a much greater reach than the typical senior facility, which usually draws clients from no more than a 10-mile radius.
The U.S. now has perhaps a dozen LGBT senior facilities that exist or are under construction, Carle and others said. Some of those developments seek to serve people with lower or moderate incomes. None apparently has a continuing care component.