Before the economic downturn, there was a growing interest in higher ed in integrating active adult communities with campus life. Residents would benefit from the amenities provided by a college town, while campus constituents would benefit from the perspective another generation could offer, and possible revenue through rents or membership fees. Interest sagged along with the real estate market—but is starting to tick up again. “There is renewed interest among universities and economic developers of college towns and land owners who are near campuses,” says Gerard Badler, managing director of Campus Continuum LLC, a consulting company that helps plan such communities. “People are beginning to engage in the planning process.”
The planning process is taking place at Winthrop University (S.C.) in the form of a survey to gauge interest in the project from potential residents. Prior to 2008, campus administrators had teamed with city leaders to explore redevelopment opportunities for an old textile mill adjacent to campus, explains Rebecca C. Masters, assistant to the president for public affairs. Benefits to residents would include access to campus facilities and lifelong learning opportunities, while campus leaders anticipate opportunities for guest lectures and mentors found among the new residents. The surrounding community would benefit from the influx of new residents, as well.
Badler says that, prerecession, potential residents were interested in purchasing a new home, while now there is more interest in renting. There are also financial challenges now in terms of juggling mortgages.
“Universities should think about how they are going to drive this process from the earliest stages to the ongoing management,” says Balder. “The university needs to take a lead role in planning, marketing, and managing these projects. If they do that, I think the project will meet their goals. If they don’t get involved at the beginning, then the developer might drive the project and you’ll get a situation where the project is only thinly associated with [the institution], and then you don’t get the advantage of having the abilities of these seniors available to the university because you haven’t planned for it.”