Is Coral Gables the Place to Retire in a Senior Community?
Sharon Cocchi walks into her building after her afternoon stroll down Miracle Mile with her Shih Tzu, Coco Chanel, and the receptionist warmly greets her by her first name. Other residents mill about the large lobby, traversing the intricately designed marble floors.
As Cocchi makes her way to the elevator, the chandelier above the receptionist’s desk sparkles in the warm afternoon light, complementing the Sistine-esque painting on the ceiling. On the second floor, she strides across ornate, custom-made carpets on her way to the granite-topped bar. She passes other residents who are enjoying complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres while listening to a pianist play smooth jazz on a grand piano. Out of the corner of her eye, Cocchi spots one of her friends sitting at the bar. She orders a glass of wine and takes a seat next to her friend to enjoy the building’s daily happy hour. Judging from the free-flowing glasses of wine and gourmet appetizers, smiling faces, and lavish, baroque decor, you’d think you had stumbled into an opulent European hotel, not a senior living community.
Located in the heart of downtown Coral Gables lies arguably one of the world’s most luxurious and active senior living communities. Featured on prominent rapper 2 Chainz’s “Most Expensivest” hit television series on MTV, The Palace at Coral Gables redefines the stereotypical idea of senior living.
Instead of the morose atmosphere typically associated with senior living communities, The Palace is full of residents enjoying their golden years. Here they have the option to enjoy activities and classes to keep the body and brain sharp. Among classes offered, the most popular are improv acting, computer literacy, flower arranging, and foreign languages. The Palace partners with the University of Miami Osher Lifelong Learning Center to provide classes and lectures from UM professors on-site twice a week.
Residents also enjoy a wellness center with group fitness classes and personal trainers. There is a state-of-the-art indoor swimming pool surrounded by elaborate murals, as well as nightly entertainment, a theater, a dance floor, a full-service beauty salon, and a doctor’s and nursing office, not to mention a Euro-style breakfast and an award-winning four-course evening dining experience. “There’s just always something going on and someone to connect with here,” says Cocchi.
About three quarters of Palace residents live completely independently; the other quarter receive some assistance. The median age of residents at The Palace hovers around 88, but it hosts residents from ages 75 to 97.
“For us, one of the most important things is the social aspect of the community. We want our residents to get out and inter- act with each other. I mean, there’s the whole idea that if you rest, you rust,” says Adam Rosenblum, Vice President of Marketing and Sales at The Palace Group.
That philosophy – the need to stay connected and active – are two key concepts for what is now called healthy aging, says Patricia Will, the CEO for Belmont Village, a national chain of cutting-edge senior communities that will see its most advanced incarnation in Coral Gables. In partnership with Baptist Health, Belmont is building what amounts to a 232-unit senior university campus adjacent to the Shops at Merrick Park. To be completed by summer 2023, Belmont Village will incorporate the latest on-site research on how to age well, with on-site “healthy living” medical care provided by Baptist.
Belmont was launched 25 years ago by Will (there are now 32 nationwide), when she was frustrated by the lack of quality care for her aging in-laws. “My premise, then and now, was that this period of aging, call it from 65 to 110, is really a gift if you create opportunities and overcome the pragmatic issues that tend to be obstacles.”
Taking advantage of data from places like UCLA’s Longevity Center, Will designed Belmont based on five principles of healthy aging. The first is basic exercise – “real physical exercise, both aerobic and strength” and “mindfulness” exercises that allow people to de-stress with things like yoga and tai chi.
Second is lifelong learning. “We promote all kinds of programs for learning,” she says. “This is an opportunity to continue to learn, especially about things you didn’t have time for before, but that also tax you in special ways. Maybe a new language, or ancient history, or even physics.”
Third on Will’s list is what she calls mind-body exercises to sharpen mental acuity, by doing things that are complicated and not necessarily intuitive, like learning how to dance salsa. This will “keep you in tune,” she says.
Fourth is spiritual engagement – developing techniques to overcome stress, and to promote emotional resilience and a sense of wellbeing.
Fifth – and perhaps most important of all – is social engagement. “What we know now is that people who are home alone as they age are more apt, both physically and mentally, to decline more than people who are not,” she says. “Creating connections with one another, with neighbors, and with the community, continues to be very important. And the barriers from being home alone are easily transcended in [senior] communities.”
Space to Spread Out
East Ridge at Cutler Bay is a senior living community that follows many of these adages. Located in the age-friendly community of Cutler Bay, East Ridge currently offers its residents many of the same amenities as The Palace. However, if The Palace was where Louis XIV would’ve retired, then East Ridge is where Ernest Hemingway would’ve wanted to spend his days in the sun.
East Ridge is the epitome of Old Florida. Peacocks roam around, strutting across the walking paths. Mango trees, saw palmettos, Everglades palms, and coral jasmine pepper the property. Residents lounge around the pool, sipping cocktails, or race around in golf carts while catching up with friends.
Situated on 76 acres, East Ridge strays from the typical senior living community model by providing its residents with space to spread out. Even the independent community’s smallest dwelling still comes with a screened-in porch and backyard. With so much land, residents can reconnect with nature, explore the property’s ten-acre hammock, and admire the native flora and fauna throughout.
The East Ridge community is active and social, with residents connecting through classes and activities ranging from wine tastings and barbecues to pottery instruction and water aerobics. Marcos Gonzalez, the sales director at East Ridge, echoes the philosophy that the social aspect of a senior living community is the most vital. “We think the most important thing in our community is just that – community,” says Gonzalez. “There are events constantly happening. We even have a community TV channel that loops through the weather and all the activities going on.”
Sandy Dayhoff, a resident since 2019 and former Everglades Park ranger, takes advantage of those activities by maintaining the gardening center and teaching her fellow residents and local volunteers about the native flora and fauna. “I love it here, but what I love most is how close to nature you are,” says Dayhoff.
East Ridge also partners with local high schools in community service programs to help connect residents with younger people. Other high points include the property’s three beauty salons, its spacious fitness center (including a personal trainer), its resident-run thrift store, and its quarterly farmer’s market. In terms of residential care, East Ridge offers both independent and assisted living along with memory care. It currently hosts residents from 62 to 93 in 221 units for independent living, 90 units for assisted living, 31 units for memory care, and a 74-bed skilled nursing facility.
A Resort-Like Atmosphere
Another senior community due to open in late fall of this year is The Watermark at Coral Gables. Appropriately located near the high-end Shops at Merrick Park, The Watermark will offer residents a senior community with luxury in mind. Part of the Élan Collection of retirement communities, it focuses on providing a resort-like senior living experience.
Like other senior communities, The Watermark offers extensive amenities and social activities. Residents can take advantage of 24-hour concierge service and on-call transportation to attend events in downtown Coral Gables. They can participate in The Watermark University program to learn a new language or about cryptocurrency. Or they can head to the Renew spa and salon for a massage, facial, or haircut.
The Watermark will also have a state- of-the-art gym that provides exercise classes ranging from Zumba to Tai Chi. At the wellness center, residents will have access to any physical, occupational, or speech therapy that they might need. “At The Watermark, we believe that aging is about renewal in- stead of retirement,” says Executive Director Lisa Kinsella. “We take the philosophy of cultivating the mind and body while providing a resort-like experience.”
Adding to that experience, The Watermark will offer gourmet, on-site dining options. Residents can grab a coffee at the Gallery Café for breakfast, drop by Taboon, the property’s casual Mediterranean style restaurant for lunch, grab a craft cocktail at the W Lounge before heading to the pool, and then finish off the day with a steak and glass of wine at The Mark.
The Watermark also intends to set itself apart with extravagant outings, not only locally but with supervised trips to places like Napa Valley. It will operate as a rental community where residents can renew their lease on a month-to-month basis. Even though there are no buy-ins, it will provide a three-tier system where residents can transition from independent to assisted living, or memory care. There will be 103 units for independent living, 63 units for assisted living, and 32 units for memory care.
A Boutique Approach
Not too far from The Watermark is The Contemporary, another unique senior living community that will open July 1. Located
in Westchester, The Contemporary sets itself apart by offering independent living in a small, exclusive boutique setting. With only 85 units, The Contemporary aims to function as a tight-knit community where residents will find it easy to make friends and get involved in social activities.
“We’re a two-story community, so we’re small and intimate,” says Berta Ramirez, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Con- temporary. “Once all of our residents come in, we plan to cater the excursions, activities, and classes offered to their liking.”
The Contemporary is partnering with Florida International University and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to give residents the chance to take classes from FIU professors on-site. It will also partner with Legacy Healthcare Services to provide residents occupational and physical therapy, as well as different exercise classes like aerobics and yoga. Residents will be able to access virtual exercise classes through TVs in their apartments.
“Our primary focus at The Contemporary is to cater to health and wellness, and that’s everything from community to exercise to nutrition,” says Executive Director Patricia Duran. On the nutrition side, The Contemporary prides itself on a fine dining program with a farm-to-table approach. Head chef Vladimir Fleitas is recognized for his Cuban, Caribbean, and fusion cuisines, with a menu based on locally sourced ingredients. And even though The Contemporary doesn’t have nursing staff on-site, it is located adjacent to MedSquare® Place, which houses doctors with a variety of specialties.
A Modern Take
Another senior living community that’s opening soon is The Oasis at Coral Reef. Projected to open in early fall, it will be located on 97th Ave, right off U.S. 1, next to the Jackson South Medical Center. The Oasis at Coral Reef defines itself as “modern,” providing many of the standard amenities of a senior living community in a “contemporary and fresh atmosphere,” says Director of Sales and Marketing Kaydee Jensen.
Located on eight acres of land, the Oasis will have numerous walking paths for residents to enjoy the South Florida sun away from the traffic of the city. Yet,
it is still conveniently located close to The Falls should residents want to do a bit of shopping. Golfers will also rejoice that the Palmetto Golf Course is just across the street. In terms of activities, The Oasis plans to offer a daily social hour along with a selection of classes and events ranging from arts and crafts to outings at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and the Deering Estate.
While The Oasis believes the social aspect of a senior living community is important, the community prides itself on the care that will be offered. “We’re really committed to providing the highest level of care to our residents,” says Jensen. Operating under a month-to-month rental agreement, residents will have the freedom to see how they like The Oasis without committing to an expensive buy-in, and they can transition from the property’s independent living community to assisted living or memory care if needed. The Oasis will have 102 units for independent living, 71 units for assisted living, and 28 for memory care.
No matter which senior living community you may be interested in for you or a loved one, there are common factors that contribute to healthy aging. Among these are good nutrition, daily exercise of the body and mind, and, most importantly, a strong sense of community.
“To the extent that you isolate, you decline physically, mentally, and spiritually,” says Belmont’s Patricia Will. “The last thing [seniors] hold onto is ‘I want to live in my house at all costs. I don’t care if I am alone, it’s mine and that is what I constitute independence to be.’ But this is a new paradigm altogether that unlocks these possibilities [of aging well].” If you are alone, she says, that means “you are eating alone, you are passive in your activities – they are either on a screen or in a book – and you are bemoaning who is coming to visit or who isn’t, as opposed to the opportunity for constant engagement. Once people experience that, they always say, ‘Why did I fight this? Why did I want to stay home by myself?’”
Will also notes that, unlike typically remote senior centers – even if they are in beautiful locations – people who are used to going to restaurants, engaging in cultural pastimes, shopping, etc., would rather be in “ground zero at the center of things. Being in the Gables could not be better for that.”