Methodist ElderCare Services hopes to break ground this summer on a $35 million first phase of Wesley Woods, the third retirement community for the organization and its first new campus in 17 years.

Columbus-based Methodist ElderCare has a letter of intent to buy 38 undeveloped acres at the southeast corner of Dublin-Granville and Hamilton roads in Columbus. It will make the purchase from New Albany Co.

The first phase of construction would include eight villa-style residences, a 10-unit hospice center set in the woods and a three-story building with assisted living, independent apartments, a unit for those with memory loss and a one-story nursing home wing.

The goal is to open in late 2017, and future phases could add up to 24 villas.

“We’re a good fit with New Albany – it’s a first-class place,” CEO Margaret Carmany told Columbus Business First. “We were looking everywhere, had done market studies. This was the strongest market available in our opinion … particularly for younger seniors looking for luxury.”

Fitting into Wesley network
The 45-year-old nonprofit organization is working with Akron-based First Merit Bank on a $35 million issue of bank-backed tax-exempt bonds; the financing could include other banks. Besides the borrowing, a lot must happen before breaking ground, including site engineering and building permits from the city and Ohio Department of Health clearance to open a nursing home.

Then there was the matter of endangered bats: Trees on the site had to be removed so the bats would seek different nesting sites this spring.

Westerville-based Corna Kokosing Construction Co. is lead contractor. The designer is Columbus-based Ph7 Architects, a specialist in senior housing.

An affiliate of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, Methodist ElderCare opened Wesley Glen Retirement Community in Clintonville in 1969 and built Wesley Ridge in Reynoldsburg in 1998 with independent apartments, adding assisted living capabilities three years later. It also operates a hospice and home health service.

The organization recorded a small surplus on $37 million in revenue last year, Carmany said.

Both Wesley communities have expanded, including a nursing home added at Wesley Ridge and pool and wellness center that opened at Wesley Glen in 2012. The $35 million bond issue will include $3.5 million to add a wellness center at the Reynoldsburg campus this year; Wesley Woods eventually would add one, she said.

Senior living wave
The expansion comes amid a burst of retirement construction after a long lull during the recession:
Michigan-based Granger Group is going through permitting with New Albany for a $35 million, 15-acre campus with independent living villas and assisted living residences at 227 E. Main St.

Upper Arlington-based National Church Residences is planning a Westerville community and also is considering Worthington.

Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services is adding a second luxury apartment high-rise for seniors at its Westminster-Thurber campus on the edge of downtown Columbus.

Friendship Village of Dublin recently added villas and is adding apartments in an upcoming expansion.

“Continuing care retirement communities are the future for senior living,” Carmany said. “People like to move in before they need the continuum of care, but they want to know (it) will be there if they need it.

“The boomer population is starting to retire and retirement communities are different than they used to be.”

Entry fees and rents are expected to be enough to repay the bonds, Carmany said, and won’t affect the budgets of Wesley Glen or Wesley Ridge.

“It’s a good move. It’s a good long-term strategy,” she said. “We’re in a sound financial position or we wouldn’t be doing it.”

By Carrie Ghose
Columbus Business First