As the largest single-site senior living life-plan community in Texas, Army Residence Community (ARC) in San Antonio has served thousands of retired military residents and their spouses since its opening in 1987.
Building on its success in offering more than 600 living units across a 140-acre campus, ARC set out in 2018 to develop a repositioning plan that would equip the community for the residents of the future. Under the direction of new CEO Steve Fuller, ARC embraced a process in which residents, board members and staff would work together to identify priorities for the organization and develop the plan accordingly.
“We have an incredible and rich tradition here, phenomenal residents, and a very unique culture of service above self,” Fuller says. “Our primary goals were to build on those successes to address an aging campus, aging amenities and infrastructure, and then to better respond to the changing marketplace, as the expectations of residents and prospective residents have been changing.”
With an eye toward philanthropy, improving quality of life, building financial strength and long-term sustainability, the redevelopment plan addressed many objectives, including increased square footage, larger living units and open concept kitchens. The project also faced a rapidly changing financing market with rising construction costs, supply chain issues and labor challenges.
Critically, all construction work would take place while the community was occupied.
“It’s much easier to build new with no resident occupants,” Fuller says. “We had to minimize any impact to residents’ as we were really going to be working in their homes.”
To do so, ARC sought the help of its partner: Morrison Living.
Development and partnership
ARC worked closely with residents throughout the planning and redevelopment process, an approach Fuller says led to an “incredible” planning formula. Yet the organization ultimately recognized a partner could support some of the project needs and planning, one with shared values, creativity and problem-solving capabilities. To that end, they leveraged an existing partnership with Morrisson Living, who has served the organization since 2011.
“We found those traits in various architects, developers, interior designers and contractors, but Morrison Living in particular stepped up and helped us not only with the repositioning, but also with all the operating adjustments and the changes we had to do as we implemented the plan,” Fuller says.
Among the challenges facing ARC was the need for a complete redesign of the campus’s dining operations, which meant creating a temporary dining room in place of an existing resident lounge during the construction. The temporary kitchen stemmed from a bistro operation tasked with serving the 700 residents on campus. In addition to adapting the culinary experience, operational efficiency and the resident experience remained top of mind. To address these, Morrison Living employed key strategies, including, optimizing staffing workflows, creating additional retail activation, and leveraging resident preference data to incorporate into the menu build.
“That was no small undertaking,” Fuller says. “We had to purchase equipment, put it in the temporary space and modify our entire program. Throughout the whole repositioning effort, we maintained a great superior dining service option that really helps the residents and keeps their satisfaction levels high.”
The partnership also stepped in with procurement resources, as many materials and equipment faced long lead times. Pre-purchasing helped, as did Morrison Living’s buying power as a group purchasing organization.
Morrison Living also made a capital investment in the project, which enabled ARC to complete some of its plans that otherwise would have been delayed until further along in the project.
“That allowed us to move our resident sky lounge into the first phase, which is really going to change the finished project and the lives of the residents,” Fuller says.
ARC’s redevelopment project: 4 key lessons learned
ARC’s renovation began in June of 2022. As ARC approaches its redevelopment completion, with a target date of November 2023, the leadership reflects on some lessons learned throughout the process:
- Engage residents — with 700 residents living through the project, Fuller stresses the need to involve residents in the planning and decision-making process. Resident ambassadors can help by championing the project.
- Manage scope and cost creep — in an older building, especially, there is a need for contingencies and contingency budgets.
- Over-communicate — this extends to financing conversations, especially in changing rate environments.
- Expect the unexpected — “Sometimes contractors may or may not work out. You might have to pivot and change during the process, so you need to be responsive to that,” Fuller says.
Ultimately, the redevelopment process will provide ARC with a competitive advantage and greater resident satisfaction, its leadership says.
“In the past, we were strictly a life plan community,” Fuller says. “But through this planning effort, we also created a rental product at the ARC so we can give residents more choices and options…we’re able to better serve another group that we hadn’t before. I think it’s going to greatly impact resident satisfaction and our long-term outlook and financial sustainability.”
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This article is sponsored by CCL Hospitality Group, a hospitality partner offering culinary and support services under the operating companies Morrison Living, Coreworks, Unidine and The Hub company brands. To learn more about CCL and its specialization in nutrition and wellness, talent management, operations optimization, housekeeping, environmental services, supply chain, retail and design, and data and analytics, visit www.ccl-hg.com.
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