Retired University alumni may be able to settle near campus

by Christopher Aadland

As former Gophers continue to age and enter their golden years, some regents and administrators at the University of Minnesota say the campus area could be a desirable retirement destination for baby boomers.
The idea to build housing for aging University alums comes at a time when off-campus housing projects geared towards students have boomed, and the school is looking to revamp its on-campus housing strategy for students. Some say the campus’ location could be an attractive area for retirement.
“It’s been a surprise that the development community hasn’t seen that opportunity there,” said Regent Richard Beeson, who raised the idea at last month’s board meeting.
While the idea is in the early stages of development, it could give retired University alumni a second chance to experience college life, said Lisa Lewis, CEO of the U of M Alumni Association. The housing would be modeled after other projects for retirees already completed at institutions like the University of Texas at Austin and Penn State University.
“We are able to get them re-associated with some type of University life,” said Ron Macha, a residency counselor at Longhorn Village, a retirement community in Austin, Texas, that partners with the University of Texas at Austin and has similar resident benefits to those Lewis said she envisions. “It keeps them young at heart.”
Lewis said the idea first came to mind about a decade ago, but the economy was in decline. She said the economy’s resurgence coupled with new development in the University area make the present a good time to look at the project’s feasibility.
The University area boasts many resources for retirees, she said, including health care facilities, Gophers sporting events and art centers. Metro Transit’s Green Line light rail running through campus makes Twin Cities’ attractions easily accessible, she said.
“It’s such a dynamic environment,” she said. “If you’re here as a retiree, you’ve got two fabulous downtowns, all that they offer, plus everything that the University offers.”
Another benefit Lewis said she envisions are programs where residents and alumni could attend classes on campus with their grandkids to immerse them in a university setting.
Beeson said he hopes any retirement facilities or communities also appeal to retired faculty and staff members.
A project aimed at aging alums might include partnerships with private developers, Lewis said. Before a project could move forward, University staff would have to determine whether alumni, faculty and staff members would flock to these communities, she said.
“There’s a certain vibrancy to [being near a college campus],” Lewis said. “Living around that kind of culture again would be attractive to a certain set 
of people.”