Taylorsville's Summit Vista senior living facility is being built to afford residents more options, including a marketplace and cafe, a fitness center and pool, a salon and spa, along with myriad healthcare options

By Brice Wallace 

“Boomers want more choice.”

Those words are at the heart of what is being called Utah’s first lifeplan senior living facility, Summit Vista. Like the push for communities to have homes, workplaces, parks, recreation options and shopping within easy reach, Summit Vista in Taylorsville aims to offer seniors housing, classes, clubs, dining options and wellness facilities all in one place.

Mark Erickson, CEO and executive director, believes Summit Vista is on the cutting edge when it comes to the intersection of design and operations of senior communities. Summit Vista follows a concept that aims for “successful aging,” which entails healthiness, high physical and cognitive functioning, and “continued engagement with life.”

“For years, we told people when they retired, ‘Slow down; take your time,’ and that’s the worst advice you can give to people,” Erickson said during a ULI (Urban Land Institute) Utah program focused on trends in housing for Utah’s aging, active population.

“What we’re learning is, the people who stay most active are the people who age most successfully. And so when you think about the design of these buildings and the programs and the people that we hire, everything goes back to ‘how we do create those opportunities for engagement?’”

Those opportunities will grow as Summit Vista is built-out over the next seven to 10 years. The 100-acre property ultimately will have 1,600 independent living apartments in 15 residential buildings. Three clubhouses will be surrounded by buildings with 100 to 120 apartments each. Clusters of four to six residential buildings and clubhouses will be “neighborhoods,” with the first having 600 apartments. Summit Vista also will have 300 healthcare beds, and while it eventually will have on-site assisted living, memory care, nursing care and short-term rehab facilities, those services will be available through contracts with providers until then.

Those baby boomers seeking choices will have plenty available. Already in place are a 62,000-square-foot clubhouse, three restaurants, a marketplace and cafe, a lap pool, a fitness center, classrooms and an arts studio, a beauty salon and spa, a billiards and games room, and outdoor recreational options.

That blend of design and operations — and choice — is exemplified in the restaurants, Erickson said. While they provide for residents’ nutrition needs, they also offer opportunities for socialization. “It’s people coming down, eating, making new friends, talking and planning,” he said.

The community refers to them as “restaurants” rather than “dining rooms,” according to Marcus Cordova, associate executive director at Summit Vista and director of culinary arts there. One restaurant offers 26 menu options. For a different ambience, a bistro/pub offers 16 and has an exhibition-style kitchen allowing diners to watch their pizzas being made. Diners have a choice of a large room, but smaller spaces provide more intimacy and can be used for private events.

Cordova said it’s about meeting residents’ expectations. The post-World War II generation was “happy with what they could get,” he said.

“Now we have people that are moving in, have traveled all over the world and been all over,” he said. “The whole food scene around the whole country and around the world has exploded, so people are introduced to different types of cuisine and have higher expectations.”

Offering variety is one change happening that is altering the perception of senior living, he said. It surprised some students at a culinary school when he visited to brief them about Summit Vista.

“When you first walk into a culinary school and you meet with these young culinarians and you say, ‘Hey, how would you like to go work in a retirement community?’ What do you think their first impression was? ‘What am I going to do at the retirement community all day? Run a blender all day? Serve mashed potatoes and meatloaf and that type of thing?’ So we have to change those perceptions.”

Eventually, the students bought into the vision. “The response I got was, ‘Yes, this is the environment that I want to work in,’ because it wasn’t that old-age home, the white corridors with the people sitting in the hallways with their wheelchairs. It feels like you’re walking into a resort or a fine-dining restaurant that you might see in downtown Salt Lake or Park City.”

Cordova said residents were heavily involved in the planning, providing input on the china, glassware, chairs and menu. “We challenged every little thing that we did in creating this community,” he said.

Mark Pace, partner at Gardner Co., one of three Summit Vista investors, said his company typically builds a building and a company then will sign a long-term lease to use it. “This is a different animal,” he said of Summit Vista. “This is all about construction — yes, it is — but it’s also everything about operations. You have to get them both right or you have nothing. We’re glad we got it right.”

So is Rachael Stephens, who has one of 73 units currently occupied. She and husband Jerry were once the owners of a single-family home and “we fussed, we fixed, we updated, we repaired” the place over the decades. Pride of ownership was one main reason why they shoveled snow, washed the patio, cleaned the patio furniture, tilled the flower beds and put flower pots on the patio.

“And we loved doing all of that stuff,” she said, with the effort made in order to be proud of where they lived and having a place where friends and family would feel comfortable coming over for visits. “And we found that here at Summit Vista” — but without all the work, Stephens said.

She eats at the main restaurant because the food is “spectacular” and offers a chance to enjoy friends and making new ones. The bistro offers a different environment. She enjoys having the option of using the fitness center and swimming pool, and using classrooms equipped with TV and Internet access, she said.

“We’re still learning and we’re able to participate with all of the things they have,” she said. As for clubs, “It doesn’t matter if you wanted to play bridge or you wanted to have a book club or you wanted to play pingpong, there’s just a million of them.”

Wayne Harper, economic development director for Taylorsville, said the city had several options for the current Summit Vista site when considering its future a few years ago. It had been master-planned and zoned for a professional office park. Four uses were considered. One was for 1,200 single-family homes, which would have had a huge impact on local schools and caused rush-hour traffic on 6200 South to explode. Another was for a mixed-use development, with many similar issues. A corporate research-and-development building with some retail and residential also was an alternative.

But a senior retirement community ultimately won out because of its huge investment over time and relatively limited effects on schools and infrastructure. It also helped that Summit Vista would eventually be the best employer of the four options, with about 1,300 workers when completed.

“So, you can go through and say these retirement communities don’t make sense, they don’t benefit a city or school district or things like that. This a lot of new taxes going into schools without an impact on the public school system,” Harper said.

“As we did this as an analysis, it came out being very beneficial based on the bottom line for the city, the school district and the other groups. But more importantly, we saw a need that was not being met for seniors. … It is a completely different ambience and benefit for the community.”

In addition to benefits to the community, those involved in its development see positives for the seniors who will call Summit Vista home.

“The reality is that people can live independently much longer in an independent living setting here than they could in their house because of the services they get,” Erickson said.

“It’s filling a niche that people need,” Pace said, “and it’s really quite remarkable to talk to the residents that are moving in, and it’s really quite a blessing in their lives.”

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