Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Riding the Assisted Living Wave

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Riding the Assisted Living Wave

Article excerpt

Heavy consumer demand and local innovations have drawn national attention to the Oklahoma City assisted living sector.

That real estate niche has emerged as one of the strongest in the area market. Over the past seven years, more than 14 new centers have been constructed or are under way.

"Consumer demand has really driven the market because consumers were getting tired of the institutional atmosphere," says Rhea Ann Lee, president of Oklahoma City-based Clark Lee Consulting and Development. Her company specializes in the start-up management and marketing for assisted living communities all over the country, including the recently announced Arbor House at 4501 W. Main in Norman. "Nursing homes are now taking more acute types of patients typically cared for in hospitals," she explains, noting trends that have taken root over the last decade. "Those people that used to be cared for in nursing homes are now being cared for in assisted living centers." National players such as Marriott now eye the Oklahoma City area for assisted living construction. Marriott is nearing completion of its 119-unit Brighten Gardens facility on May Avenue, just south of Memorial Road, marking the company's entrance in the local sector. For developers, the assisted living center market can offer good profit margins and high returns for investors. "A lot of the growth started with Sterling House, when people saw how well they were doing here," notes Lee. "Since then we have started seeing a lot of developers come into this industry locally." However, Lee worries that some developers are forgetting the sector's health care demands, resulting in inadequate care. "There is a lot of people in the market who are making mistakes by getting into assisted living without having the proper management or developing needed," she says. Market competition also is a growing concern, forcing new projects to fill a need from Day One. "People looking at going into assisted living need look at developing a niche in a specific area," she states. In that regard, Oklahoma City developers are blazing new market trails -- countering other real estate sectors. While Oklahoma City often lags behind the nation in terms of new construction, that is not the case in this field. Not only is Oklahoma City keeping pace with the rest of the nation, Lee says it is setting some innovative trends. For example, area developers have shown interest in constructing these centers as part of a multifacet commercial development. Take the 42-acre Pebble Creek development under way on State Highway 52 in Mustang. The $1.7 million project by Robert Crout, president of Crout Companies, consists of a golf course, 190-unit apartment complex, retail stores and a seven-acre assisted and independent living center. …

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