It's not your grandfather's senior center.

Water parks, multiplexes and fitness centers are just a few of the amenities being touted at a slew of mixed-used centers being constructed by developers that target residents 55 years of age and older. These mixed-used projects with residential properties designed for active and mature adults are forging their way across the United States.

Inland Real Estate Development's four urbanSenior Living projects in Chicago; Kane Realty Corp.'s addition to its sprawling North Hills complex in Raleigh, N.C. and Lorig Associates' Era Living in Seattle are among the first mixed-used projects geared to appeal to active seniors.

The projects mark a stark change from the trend that has dominated senior housing in past decades where the bulk of properties have been secluded enclaves tucked away in the suburbs. The new wave is about plugging seniors right into urban settings.

“Our projects are designed to allow [seniors] to live with people their own age, but they won't feel set aside because they are downtown and able to mingle with people of all different ages,” says Anthony A. Casaccio, president of Oakbrook, Ill.-based Inland Real Estate Development.

Inland Real Estate is joining forces with senior housing specialist, HPD Cambridge, LLC, St. Louis, Mo., to create urbanSenior Living. The $55 million project will include four vertical mixed-use centers in the neighboring Chicago communities of LaGrange, Elmhurst, Clarendon Hills and Lombard. Combined, the four projects will have 144 independent living apartments for seniors atop the street-level retail and restaurant space accessible via the residential tower that will appeal to residents, neighbors and tourists alike.

The first of the four complexes, the 30-unit LaGrange Pointe, is slated to break ground this spring and construction on the other three is set to begin in the fall. Inland has not yet signed any leases for the retail portion of the development, but according to Casaccio, the firm is not targeting retailers that skew older.

A key is to have tenants that will appeal to all age groups. “To have retail where other people are using it would be a step in the right direction,”says Eunice Noell-Waggoner, president of the Center for an Aging Society, a Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving existing environments for older adults.

One idea could be lifestyle retailers like apparel or furniture stores, which are particularly popular with retirees and younger consumers, cites Lydia Tan, executive vice president with Bridge Housing Corp., a developer of senior housing communities.

Bridge is putting together a bid to create a mixed-use senior housing project in Foster City, Calif. that will have between 400 and 600 independent and assisted living units with as much as 90,000 square feet of retail.

Bridge went to a nearby independent living project and asked those residents what they wanted in terms of retail, Tan says. They answered that they wanted lifestyle retail.

“The most important thing for us is to encourage seniors to be part of the activity on the street and encourage the folks who will be using the retail to linger and stay and become a part of the community,” says Tan.

Foster City is in the process of evaluating Bridge Housing's bid, as well as bids from AF Evans Company and the Jewish Home of San Francisco. Industry experts note senior mixed-use centers are not only conducive as places for them to shop and dine, but are also great places to socialize.

Senior mixed-use developments are rare compared to the traditional senior living communities that are self-contained and located somewhere on the edge of town, according to David Sanders, president of HPD Cambridge.

We used to do that many years ago, says Sanders. Then we began to wonder why we were taking people of that age away from the grocery store, the hair salon and all the conveniences they were used to. “These projects have to be pedestrian-friendly. That's ideal for seniors because there are so many things you can do without relying on somebody else,” he says.

Baby Boomers, an alluring market for both retailers and developers, also frequent mixed-use centers for their wide-ranging venues. Those suburban empty-nesters could soon be in the market for urban dwellings.

There are 78.2 million Baby Boomers in the United States, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, wielding the collective purchasing power of $2.1 trillion annually. Developers are betting that the country's aging Baby Boomers will increase demand for senior-themed mixed-use centers. Last year, the first of the Baby Boom generation turned 60. By 2030, 71 million Americans will be 65 or older — about 20 percent of the total population; the senior market is expected to be robust. (Today the figure is about 37 million.)

Across the country there are several developments that are creating enclaves for seniors within larger mixed-use developments, including Era Living in Seattle, developed by Lorig Associates.

The Era Living project, Thornton Place, broke ground in April and is scheduled for completion in 2009. It will feature 143 senior housing units for people 62 and older as part of a broader development that includes more than 250 market-rate apartments, 109 condominiums, 62,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, a 14-screen movie theater and a water park. The senior community and Lorig's property will be connected to each other by a series of walking paths.

“We love the idea of having the mixed-use environment because our residents are very active, so clearly having a life outside of the community is very important,” says Gena L. Owens, vice president of marketing and sales for Lorig Associates.

Meanwhile, Kane Realty Corp., of Raleigh, N.C., is working on a $1 billion expansion of its North Hills mixed-use center in Raleigh. The expansion will introduce a 300-unit continuing care facility for people over the age of 60.

The development, called the Cardinal at North Hills, will also feature a clubhouse with three dining venues, a fitness center, a media room and other recreation facilities. Scheduled to break ground in late 2007, it is currently in the pre-demolition phase. Kane Realty is partnering with Kisco Senior Living and Duke Healthcare Systems.

Unlike a senior mixed-used center, continuing care incorporates senior housing, assisted living and nursing homes under a single roof, allowing residents to transfer between housing units as they age and their health-care needs change.

So that the facility would not be mistaken for a medical center, Kane says they are taking great pains to integrate Cardinal into the town center project. “We wanted to create all types of living quarters because we are trying to appeal to people from all walks of life,” he says.

To develop the continuing care project, Kane had to work with North Carolina's Department of Insurance to receive approval to provide skilled nursing and assisted living services. But they are an exception in taking on care giving. Most mixed-use projects aimed at seniors will provide some ambulatory services, including transportation to and from entertainment events, doctor's appointments and help with errands. But both Inland and HPD have no plans to cross over into care giving.

UrbanSenior Living does not provide assisted living facilities and nursing services because of the extensive licensing required for such projects, including staffing quotas and pre-authorization requirements for Medicaid financing.

Add to that, says Noell-Waggoner, active seniors seeking residence within a mixed-use center don't want to be associated with the typical stigma that comes when people think of nursing homes.

“A nursing home is a medical facility and no one wants to hang around a hospital any longer than they have to,” says Noell-Waggoner. Instead, Inland will consider additional opportunities to work on independent living quarters, where the minimal increases in construction costs for wider entrances and more opulent common areas are easily offset by what aging Baby Boomers are willing to pay for their quarters.

Casaccio says, “I believe that with the trend of people living longer and seniors representing a much higher percentage of the buying population, we will continue to do such developments.”