Demand for senior housing in Columbus not imminent, but coming

Research group finds area’s needs to be on fringe

Paul Rignell
Columbus Reporter

A recent study by Maxfield Research, of Minneapolis, shows that residents of Columbus and three neighboring communities are aging (as people are prone to do everywhere). However, a Maxfield official told the Columbus City Council last week that existing demographics may not warrant a rapid jump into the construction of new senior housing.

With this study being ordered by the Columbus council at a January meeting, Maxfield reported back Feb. 27 that the four communities saw their percentage of residents age 55 and up grow during the decade from 2000 to 2010. The firm clumped Columbus together with East Bethel, Ham Lake and Linwood as a “primary market area,” or PMA, for consideration.

Based on historical data for older residents that could choose to stay in their current homes or opt to move to a senior facility now in operation in Forest Lake, Blaine, Lino Lakes or another nearby city, Maxfield said that in 2013 there could be demand for 37 units in Columbus. That considers all levels of living and needed care such as independent living, congregate living (where options can include meals, housekeeping and transportation), assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing.

Fifty is often the magic figure when Maxfield decides to suggest that a city scope out some developers. “(Thirty-seven) is really kind of on the edge,” Mary Bujold, president of Maxfield Research, told the Columbus council. “That doesn’t mean someone won’t do it, but [50] is usually kind of the minimum threshold that we see.”

The city’s zoning map currently would allow for senior housing in the commercial freeway district, which could put a senior campus close to gas stations, convenience stores and arterial roads on which residents could travel quickly.

Mayor Dave Povolny noted that the nearest site for general medical care is Fairview Lakes in Wyoming, and he wondered if that was too distant from a future senior campus in Columbus. “Are we too far from a hospital?” he asked.

“No, I wouldn’t say that you are,” Bujold replied.

After the mayor and council had heard a presentation filled with numbers, Povolny took a good-natured cheap shot at an elder when he looked over to Councilmember Denny Peterson and asked, “Denny, you’re closest to this, what do you think?”

Maxfield based its latest estimates on 2012 data, and has projected out that this PMA could reach enough demand for senior housing in Columbus by 2017.

Recent campuses built elsewhere are showing that modern designs and features are very attractive for aging residents whom in many cases may be able to care for themselves, but have a desire to free themselves from yard work or snow removal. “[The facilities] are more residential in character, and much less institutional,” Bujold said.

City Attorney Bill Griffith Jr. commended the council for having taken this step.

“Even if we’re on the edge of the market right now, others will develop around you,” he said. “I think [what you’ve done] is helpful. If you get this rolling, folks will start to know you’re interested in pursuing this opportunity.”

MRC Meets in Columbus

Mayor Povolny reported that the Minnesota Racing Commission, which oversees business at Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus and Canterbury Park in Shakopee, has moved its next public work session to Columbus City Hall, with the agenda to open 4 p.m. today, March 7.

The mayor and other city officials said the session will be of interest to residents who value Running Aces as Columbus’ largest taxpayer and leading employer, with the facility holding 650 jobs for a payroll of $19 million.