More retirees headed to Iowa City

BY JULIA SHRIVER | JUNE 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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Jacquelyn Sullivan opted to move to Iowa City in order to be closer to her family.

“I like the community itself,” said Sullivan, a current resident of Melrose Meadows Retirement Community. “It’s just the right size so that we can get to know the people that live here, and we become a real community.”

Sullivan is just one of many elderly persons who have chosen to live among the nearly dozen Iowa City area retirement-housing developments in recent years.

Area officials say they expect the trend to continue for quite some time.

Just ask both CNN’s Money and Forbes magazines, both of which ranked the city a top place to retire in 2012.

It may come as no surprise then, that Iowa City has been experiencing an increase in its elderly population. As a result, numerous retirement facilities have expanded, and Oaknoll is undergoing construction on a large addition.

Pat Heiden, the director of Oaknoll, 1 Oaknoll Drive, said the facility’s most recent 235,965-square-foot expansion will cost approximately $42 million and will include 69 new residential apartments, new recreational facilities a restaurant, and a courtyard, when completed in 2015.

She said the expansion is expected to add 110 residents to the current 300.

“What precipitated this expansion is that we had a very, very large waiting list of people who wanted to make Oaknoll their home,” Heiden said.

Melrose Meadows, 350 Dublin Drive, has also adjusted to the increase of elderly persons in the Iowa City area.

“We have a lot of retirees coming back here to be with their families and also, with the University of Iowa Hospital so close, it’s such a great resource for health care,” said Brook Easton, the marketing coordinator for Melrose Meadows.

Smaller than other retirement homes in the area, Melrose Meadows has 86 total residents, but its numbers are growing.

As a result, Easton said, the facility recently added nine more assisted living apartments in April, brining it to its current total of 31. The addition has already met capacity.

“I think everyone at a certain point in their life wants their family closer, and so I think that that’s another reason we are getting such an influx of residents here,” Easton said.

Jeff Davidson, the city director of planning and development, has observed a similar trend.

He said that over the past 20 years, the trend has been to build new facilities on both Iowa City’s East Side along Scott Boulevard and on the West Side in the vicinity of Benton Street and Melrose Avenue.

“We continue to get expressions of interest,” he said of expansion efforts, noting a proposed $6.5 million 41-unit senior housing project in the Towncrest neighborhood.

Why Iowa City? Davidson says it is a combination of factors.

There is, of course, the demographics, a national phenomenon that extends beyond just Iowa City.

As baby boomers across the nation are now reaching retirement age, the elderly are accounting for an increasingly larger portion of the population, including in Iowa City.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent report, June 6, people 65 and older account for 8.2 percent of Iowa City’s roughly 70,000 total population in 2010.

But that’s still significantly less than the state and national figures of 14.9 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively.

And Iowa City has certain unique characteristics that have been attracting an especially high number of retirees.

“I think the demographics is one reason,” Davidson said, adding that the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital are also contributors.

In addition to the medical services, Davidson said, some retirees in the area may have attended the University of Iowa as college students and want to return and be surrounded with the familiar collegial scene.

He maintains that the national retirement boom “has tapered off a bit” but said he believes Iowa City will remain a popular place to retire.

Heiden agreed.

“It certainly is a wonderful community with arts and culture, athletics events, medical facilities — so it really is an attractive destination for retirees,” she said.

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