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Making Senior Living Residences out of Pot Pies

One doesn’t have to look too far to find empty or under-utilized commercial property on urban and suburban streets. Many of these properties are restaurants with substantial parking lots that were required when built to accommodate the automobiles for the dining venue. Times and tastes change, and restaurants, particularly chain affiliated restaurants, quickly abandon their brick-and-mortar sites when the bottom-line financials begin to wane. Often these properties remain vacant awaiting another dining establishment to move in. But with a bit of imagination, they can be repurposed to serve the community’s elders as well as to remove a structure from the vacancy roles.

Much has been written about the repurposing of hotels for senior living residences as they have been designed to be a “living” environment, albeit for a short term. But developers may be overlooking opportunities that exist for the repurposing of dining establishments, or other commercial properties with substantial open parking, for senior living residences. The opportunities for those with vision may not be endless but can certainly be expanded beyond under-utilized hotels.

One example is Lakeview Terrace in Boulder City, Nevada. Formerly a Marie Callender® Restaurant, famous for their pot pies, on a site that overlooks Lake Mead near the Hoover Dam. Perhaps because it was not directly on a busy highway, the restaurant struggled. But for that locational reason, it seemed quite suitable for conversion to senior assisted living. The traffic was quiet, the views gorgeous and the parking lot for the restaurant was large. Throw all that together with the fact that there was already a full-service kitchen and support spaces, a large dining room and management offices and all one needed was residential apartment units.

The restaurant building sat on the high side of the sloping site with the parking lot spread out below and surrounding the dining establishment on two sides of the building. The solution was to construct a three story “U” shaped residential configuration with floor connections to the restaurant building at the mid-level of the new structure. This also provided a secured courtyard, defined by the building’s shape, that the residents could utilize without overt staffing oversite.

The architectural style of the original building emphasized the Southwest location, and the new structure was designed to complement that style and to provide a vernacular connection to the remainder of the community. The design yielded 64 assisted living apartments in a variety of studio, one-, and two-bedroom configurations. But the economy of construction was significantly impacted by the fact that the amenity, support spaces and surrounding infrastructure were in place. And the amenity spaces required little additional architectural and construction work beyond updating finishes and introducing access to the newly constructed residential wings.

The result is an affordable assisted living residence that provides a sustainable and creative solution to repurposing a vacant restaurant that was famous for pot pies.

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