Project to build intergenerational retirement community in Lawrence moving ahead

Lawrence’s efforts to become more of a retirement destination are set to kick into a higher gear in the coming weeks.

Local leaders confirmed they plan to announce by the end of the month the creation of a new 15-member nonprofit board that would be tasked with creating a first-of-its-kind intergenerational retirement community in Lawrence.

Dennis Domer, who is leading the project through Kansas University’s School of Architecture, Design and Urban Planning’s New Cities Project, said he hopes to have a feasibility study on the multimillion-dollar project completed within the next 90 to 120 days.

“I think people are getting excited about the possibility,” Domer said. “I think the university is excited about what could be accomplished, and I think the city and the county are too.”

Local officials got a taste of the idea earlier this year. In February, city commissioners approved $12,500 in funding to help form the new nonprofit entity that would be responsible for fleshing out the details of the plan.

At this point, those details include a development of 20 to 60 acres that would include a mix of single-family homes, apartments and condominiums designed to attract people 62 years and younger. The private sector would build those living units.

But the project also would include a not-for-profit “continuing care retirement community” that would offer independent-living, assisted-living, skilled-nursing and memory-care facilities.

Domer said the combination would produce a first-of-its-kind neighborhood that is designed to integrate multiple generations into a single development.

“The intergenerational component is what is attracting quite a bit of attention,” Domer said. “People are realizing that retirees don’t want to be stigmatized as old, and that is what happens if you are segregated and put into a community on the edge of town.”

The concept got publicity this week in an article on The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch Web site that listed Lawrence as one of three Kansas cities ripe for retirees.

Domer said the intergenerational development could be ready for homes by 2017, but the next few months will go a long way in determining whether that vision is accurate.

Domer hopes to hold the first board meeting for a new nonprofit entity, tentatively named Campus Village, by late May. He hopes one of the first actions of the new board — Domer declined to release the names of board members because the complete roster hasn’t yet been finalized — will be to hire a consultant that can complete an analysis of the retiree market and determine if the concept is feasible in Lawrence.

But community leaders are betting that the city can become more attractive to retirees, who they believe will provide added income and resources to the city’s economy.

“The combination of KU, Haskell and Baker University has a lot of potential to get alums to move back to the community,” said Mike Wildgen, interim director of Douglas County Senior Services.

Douglas County Senior Services also is expected to become more active in the retiree-attraction efforts in the near term. The organization’s board of directors has been revamped, and the group is holding a retreat Tuesday to talk about some of the retiree-attraction issues.

Wildgen said Senior Services is set to become the organization that manages a new online portal designed to provide information to retirees and those who are thinking of retiring in Lawrence.

Part of the process will involve hiring a new director for the organization. Wildgen, a former Lawrence city manager who is managing the organization on a temporary basis, said board members are expected at Tuesday’s retreat to set a timetable for filling the position.