Friday, March 28, 2008

Surprise condos planned for gay retirees

Surprise condos planned for gay retirees
By Tony Lombardo The Arizona Republic


Like a lot of baby boomers, gay and lesbian retirees are looking for a safe, fun place to live out their autumn years.

But Arizona's retirement offerings might not cut it, be it for lack of like-minded residents or a fear of coming out to the neighbors.

Out Properties LLC, a St. Louis development firm, hopes to change that by marketing a unique lifestyle to this niche group it calls "gayby boomers," or gay baby boomers. It plans to build a resort community, Marigold Creek, in Surprise catering to gay retirees.

"For some people, this might be the very first time in their entire life they've been able to live somewhere where they can be themselves," said Debi Purvis, principal with Out Properties.

The group is a division of Aventurs Development, and Marigold Creek is its first gay and lesbian retirement development.

Such communities already exist or are in the works in Florida , California and New Mexico . But Marigold Creek is considered the first community of its kind in Arizona .

It will sit on 32 acres northeast of Grand Avenue and will feature 190 condos and homes ranging in price from $249,000 to $850,000. The first units are expected to open by fall 2009.

No pretending

Although anyone will be able to buy there, it is designed with gay retirees in mind.

Tucson resident Frances Coleman, 53, understands the need.

"The really big advantage is you don't have to go back into the closet and squish yourself," she said. "You can live with your partner and not have to pretend you're roommates."

Coleman launched a senior group four years ago for Wingspan, a Tucson-based outreach center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

Coleman said she has encountered many retirees who chose to settle down in gated communities but kept their sexuality a secret.

"As a gay person, you're constantly coming out to people in every single venue or constantly hiding, if that's how you live," she said.

Doug Beckwith, 56, lives in Chandler 's Sun Lakes . While he enjoys the community, he sees the advantages of a place like Marigold Creek.

"We spent our whole lives always being different and being outcasts," he said. "It would be kind of nice to live in a place where everyone else had gone through the same experience."

Marigold Creek's sales pitch hits on that very point.

"Imagine a place where your neighbors are just like you. They share your interests and have similar lifestyles," an online statement reads. "Everyone is welcome, accepted and safe."

Lifestyle is key

In many ways, Marigold Creek mirrors other upscale retirement communities like Surprise's Sun City Grand. The gated development will have a fitness center, a spa, pools, a poolside bar and grill, a travel club and walking trails. It will also feature a theater and cabaret and a spiritual center.

But existing communities don't always work for gays, said Steve Donovan, a local Realtor and member of the Arizona Gay Realtor Alliance.

Donovan said he has known many members of the gay community who moved into existing Valley retirement developments, only to be disappointed and move away.

"They realized that wasn't the best choice because it was not really geared toward that lifestyle," Donovan said.

Beckwith, dean and executive director of Axia College of the University of Phoenix , said he has talked for years with friends about the benefits of a gay retirement project.

"It would be nice to have neighbors who you wouldn't have to explain to why you weren't married or didn't have grandkids," he said.

'Buzz' is building

The "buzz" has been building about Marigold Creek, said Scott Jeffery, chairman of the Greater Phoenix Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

"We'll see how the market responds, to see if there is a specific need for it," he said.

Purvis said the company is ahead of projections, securing commitments on 40 units.

And while Donovan said many of his past clients tended to gravitate to homes near downtown Phoenix , he could see Surprise as a viable place for more mature clients.

"Surprise is a great area, and it's up-and-coming," Donovan said. "I think it's going to have a huge impact on that area."

Like all retirement communities, however, it won't be for everyone.

Commercial real-estate broker Tom Snyder, 64, said he will remain in central Phoenix .

"I could never live in a Sun City or anything . . . it's just too far out for me," said Snyder, treasurer of the gay and lesbian chamber.

Out Properties is only in the early planning stages with the city, Surprise Senior Planner Janice See said. The City Council eventually must sign off on zoning and land-use changes to allow a higher density, she said. But based on preliminary talks, the project sounds favorable, See said.

Mayor supports concept

Surprise Mayor Lyn Truitt is a fan of the concept.

"We're not a community that puts up barriers," he said. "Rather, we take them down."

Purvis said her company searched the entire Valley, but Surprise had the best combination of location and community.

"We knew it was an emerging, vibrant community and got such great feedback from people that said the community was growing and interested in the arts, and lots of different types of people living in the community," she said.

Similar gay and lesbian retirement communities are in the works elsewhere.

Veronica St. Claire, chief executive of the Gay & Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons Inc., is pushing for a similar development in Palm Springs , Calif.

RainbowVision Properties Inc. is nearing the second anniversary of its community in Santa Fe . Similar to Marigold Creek, it features mixed housing options and assisted living. Roughly 70 percent of residents are from the gay and lesbian community, the rest "allies," said Jane Steinberg, its national director of marketing and sales.

RainbowVision is nearing construction on a condominium project in Palm Springs and is working on developments in San Francisco and Vancouver .

Let Laura B. represent you in your retirement purchase.

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