Renovation efforts began Thursday to develop a vacant building at McClellan into an assisted living facility for older retirees. The building, next to a retiree-housing complex called Casey Estates, is the latest step of a larger plan to redevelop part of McClellan into a retirement community. Doing so could mean sustained local economic growth through job creation in the coming years due to the country's aging population, economists, health and senior housing industry experts say.
“We think it is a wise strategy as part of our mixed-use strategy for McClellan, bringing new people into Calhoun County ... to take advantage of the many opportunities we have here,” said Robin Scott, executive director of the McClellan Development Authority, the organization tasked with managing and developing the former fort. “We saw this as a particular growth opportunity.”
Jobs mean spending
The new assisted living facility is expected to have an immediate effect on the local economy once it is completed.
According to a press release from Sage Management, an Orange Beach-based senior housing management firm that will manage the McClellan facility, the project will generate 26 jobs. The long-term housing facility will feature 60 beds and provide more than 300 square feet of living space per resident, including private bathrooms. The project is scheduled for completion around May or June.
Scott said McClellan has many amenities to draw seniors, from a golf course and scenic, outdoor walking opportunities to the Anniston Aquatic and Fitness Center. But the MDA does not plan to settle with the new assisted living facility and the Casey Estates senior housing complex. Scott said the MDA expects to close a $2.3 million deal in March with a real estate developer to turn a vacant building at Buckner Center at McClellan into another housing complex for retirees.
"We're also looking into developing small, individual patio structures for retirees," Scott said.
Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, said a large population of senior residents in a community could stimulate the local economy through job creation, particularly in the health care and leisure and hospitality industries.
"It will have an impact ... you'll have people working for them like doctors and nurses," Deravi said. "Health care jobs and leisure and hospitality-type jobs were the only ones really growing during the early years of the recession."
Deravi added that construction jobs will be created to build assisted living and retirement housing facilities. All the jobs created will mean more spending in the area, further stimulating the economy, he said.
A need in Calhoun County
Meanwhile, the need for senior facilities like those at McClellan has grown in recent years and is expected to continue to do so in the future, said Yanya Djamba, director of the Center for Demographic Research at AUM.
According to Census Bureau population estimates, Alabama's population of residents aged 65 years and older increased about 6.3 percent between 2010 and 2012. The statistics show the county's population in that age group increased 4.6 percent during the same time. The total U.S. senior population increased about 7.14 percent, the statistics show.
"The main reason is increased longevity, but the baby boomers are also contributing, especially in the last few years," Djamba said of the senior population growth.
Nick Wilmott, director of corporate development for Sage Management, said his company has experienced growth in business in recent years and expects that trend to continue.
"Nationwide, yes, we are seeing an increased need for assisted living, even in the state of Alabama," Wilmott said. "And when we looked at the market and studied the demographics, we saw there is definitely a need for more assisted living centers in Calhoun County."
Randy Frost, director of Area Agency on Aging in Anniston, said his agency has pushed for local development similar to the MDA's plans for some time.
"When you normally think of workforce development in the state you think of auto manufacturing, but there is tremendous potential for development of health care jobs, from skilled care nurses to geriatricians and trained care assistance," Frost said.
Frost said the MDA's retirement community plan is part of the current trend in senior care.
"Baby boomers are wanting more diverse options ... to be in communities where they can age in place ... get progressively higher levels of care," Frost said. "By developing a community approach, it allows them to stay in their community in familiar surroundings, which decreases isolation and improves quality of life."
Casey Estates at McClellan, owned by Georgia-based property management firm Mansermar Inc., is an independent-living facility, meaning the seniors who live there require little to no outside care. Meanwhile, the planned assisted living facility next door will offer moderate care in day-to-day activities, such as help preparing meals.
"There are a lot more options provided for long-term care and assisted living services today ... 20 to 25 years ago, there were few options for consumers," said David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the seniors housing industry.
Schless said the need for such industries has continued to grow over the years, which in turn has led to economic development for many communities.
"Certainly if it's a new development, certainly it will create a number of jobs," Schless said. "And there will be a tremendous need ... assisted living has become more prevalent in many markets."
David McCormack, CEO of Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said the growing senior population has meant more business for his hospital and the local health care industry in general.
"It's been a benefit to the hospital and the whole community," McCormack said. "And we think that is going to continue."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.