By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
The Berea City Council on Tuesday commissioned a $5,000 preliminary study to determine the viability of a new retirement community.
The council will be contracting with Spectrum Consultants, based in Gastonia, N.C., to conduct an assessment that will take approximately four weeks to complete.
During that time, the firm’s researchers will define a geographic area where a retirement community could expect to draw 70 to 80 percent of its residents, according to a plan outline from Spectrum. They will use census data to create demographic profiles and projected trends for the area to give the city an idea on how many potential clients it would have in the area.
Spectrum also will contact and evaluate local existing and planned retirement communities, such as St. Andrew’s Place in Richmond, to collect data that can be used for planning a new community.
Finally, the company’s findings will be distilled into a report and delivered to the council for further discussion.
If the council finds the report favorable enough to move forward and begin planning for a retirement community, the $5,000 paid for the initial study would be applied toward the cost of a $12,500 market analysis from Spectrum, creating a report which could be submitted as support for a financing request.
According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 12 percent of Berea's population is 65 or older. Additionally, Berea Mayor Steven Connelly said making a retirement community open to alumni from Berea College could be beneficial to both the city and people wishing to move back to the area after retirement.
While the college would not be helping sponsor a retirement community project, the mayor said he would like to see participation from it in some form.
“Many people think that unless the college has some interest, not involving land, not involving money, but an interest in the project, it probably will not work in Berea,” Connelly said.
This is not the first time Berea has made an attempt at building such a community.
In 2006, United Church Homes, a not-for-profit retirement organization based in Marion, Ohio, purchased a 150-acre site within the city. It had plans for a retirement community in Berea, but it dropped them after the recession hit in 2008.
The organization still owns the land in the city, and Connelly said he had contacted its officials to gauge their interest in renewing their plans. However, a Berea retirement community is no longer a priority for United Church Homes, the mayor said.
Talk of a retirement community began more than a generation ago, Connelly said, calling it an idea that “has been struggling to be born for 40 years.”
“We do know that we have an increasing senior demographic,” he said. “And it does seem that we have a number of people in our community leaving because they have an inability to find the appropriate place to live here, and a number have expressed discouragement that they have to leave.”
Some council members, including Diane Kerby and Chester Powell, voiced concerns about the cost of the study, saying the $5,000 price tag may be a little too expensive for the research the report will contain. However, all six council members present (Chad Hembree and Virgil Burnside were absent) voted to have Spectrum conduct the assessment.
Seth Littrell can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6623.