Targeting seniors who want to live downtown, Inland Real Estate Development has teamed with a St. Louis firm to develop four apartment buildings worth $65 million in Chicago's western suburbs. The independent-living projects are located in established downtown areas where residents can walk to local restaurants, shops and services. The 30-40 unit buildings include first-floor retail space along with a restaurant open to the general public as well as the seniors who live in the building.

"What really drew us to this concept was that the buildings are located in downtown areas," says Rodger Brown, Inland's director of planning in Oak Brook, Ill. "All the services and amenities anyone would want are right there in walking distance."

Over the last five years, suburban downtowns have undergone a wave of residential development. Towns often encourage these apartment and condo projects to provide housing for older residents who want to sell their single-family homes and purchase a smaller place near downtown services.

The idea of mixing seniors housing and suburban downtowns has been championed for years by Inland's joint-venture partner, HPD Cambridge. The design and development firm markets its concept as “urban senior living.”

"We like the idea that when you walk out the door you have a living environment where they are people of all ages," says HPD President Dave Sanders, an architect by training. He doesn't think seniors should be isolated on big age-restricted campuses where all the amenities and services have to be brought in.

Cambridge has completed nine projects nationwide. Besides the four new buildings in the Chicago area, projects are also being planned near St. Louis and Detroit.

Cambridge typically works with local developers or seniors housing operators. Cambridge provides the building designs and marketing. The local partner handles construction and building management.

The four new Chicago-area projects are located in Lombard, LaGrange, Clarendon Hills, and Elmhurst. The LaGrange building, LaGrange Pointe, opens in about a month. The Elmhurst building is under way, and the others are expected to begin construction soon.

The projects represent the first push into seniors housing by Inland's development arm. Financing is being provided by First DuPage Bank, Westmont, Ill. Inland's equity contribution is about 20%, according to Brown. He wouldn't provide expected returns.

The low-rise buildings include about 32,000 sq. ft. of retail space. "The in-fill locations are a great extension of our business," says Brown. The company develops land, but in the last two years it has also been building retail shopping centers. Inland will handle the retail leasing at the new seniors buildings.

The age-restricted buildings are meant only for independent seniors. No assisted-living apartments, or healthcare services, will be offered.

The buildings provide weekly housekeeping services, along with an emergency call system. A concierge will be on staff at each building and transportation will be provided. An optional meal plan is available.

Units range in size from about 625 sq. ft. to about 1,500 sq. ft. Each unit has its own washer and dryer. The buildings each have about 3,500 sq. ft. of common space that includes a library and kitchen. Building residents pay monthly rent ranging from $2,100 to $3,200. Residents can also opt to pay a refundable entrance fee, which reduces the monthly rent by about 30% to 35%.

The entrance fee is somewhat similar to those charged by continuing care communities. Entry fees range from about $120,000 to $300,000. The entry fee is 90% refundable. The refund is made when the apartment is re-rented. "About 85% to 90% of residents pay the entrance fee," says Sanders. "People like to get something back."