The Good Life: Historic Fort Worth gym gets new life as renovated senior living centerAugust 4, 2014
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Historic gym on Fort Worth's Southside getting a new life as a senior living center. Photo by Alyson Peyton Perkins
By Scott Nishimura
One of Fort Worth’s newest senior living centers is getting going in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods: Fairmount.
Good Life Senior Living and Memory Care, a small Lubbock firm with nine homes in New Mexico and Texas, retrofitted an historic gymnasium at 812 W. Morphy St. and earlier this year opened a 30-room, 21,282-square-foot assisted living center on the half-acre site on the northeast end of the Near Southside neighborhood.
Initial stumbles in marketing and setting up operations during construction meant that the center, which has been open since March, has had only six residents at its highest so far. But the center is moving in eight residents in late July and early August and is almost half full, said Paige Strange, the center administrator, who joined the company in April.
“We didn’t start marketing and getting the word out until June 1,” Strange said in an interview.
Good Life positions itself between small senior homes and large ones that have services ranging from rehab to assisted living and full nursing care. Its centers have nurses and partnerships with home health care, hospice and other providers, and a 7-to-1 resident to care provider ratio, Strange said.
Chad Partington, who owns the 8-year-old company with his father-in-law Lawrence Skelley, said the family was interested in entering the assisted living industry and came up with the hybrid idea during a search for care for the great-grandmother of Partington’s wife.
“As we started looking around at what was available, we didn’t like any of it,” Partington said. “You have these huge places that have a huge activities staff and a huge organization, and you’ve got these little places where it’s one-on-one care, but nothing else.
“We tried to come in and hit it to where we’re big enough to have a chef, plenty of caregivers, a nurse, activities director, but we limited the number of beds so we can still give one-on-one care and personalized service,” he said.
Good Life’s centers are typically located at the edge of neighborhoods, serving as a transition between commercial and residential uses, said Partington, who runs the company’s operations while his father-in-law oversees construction.
“We want our residents to feel like they’re still a part of the community,” he said.
The Fort Worth center’s capacity is 42 residents, and rents typically range between $4,000 and $6,000 a month, based on the level of services, Strange said.
Amenities include chef-prepared meals served in a hardwood-floored dining room that opens into a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, a garden that generates produce the chefs can use in meals, and salon services including beauty and massage.
Strange has also invited the popular neighboring Live Oak Lounge to have its jazz and country warm-up acts do previews at Good Life; so far, three have shown up.
“It’s a good fit, and it works for us,” Strange said. Good Life also will host three artists during this fall’s Near Southside Arts Goggle fete, she said.
Good Life bought the site four years ago and waited for Fairmount and West Magnolia Avenue to continue their revitalization, he said. The site is a block from West Magnolia and from Hemphill Street.
“We knew before we got it that it was going to be good, but the timing wasn’t right,” Partington said. “We were waiting for those great restaurants to come in and houses to be redone, and for that area to start flourishing like it is.”
The project is the company’s first major urban one and its first retrofit of an existing building. It built its other centers new in Amarillo and Snyder, Texas, and in Artesia, Carlsbad, Hobbs and Los Lunas in New Mexico. It has five more locations under construction, in Snyder, El Paso, Carlsbad, Lovington and Ruidoso, N.M.
Partington estimates it cost “under $1 million” to buy the Fort Worth site and $3 million to strip the building to its original steel frame.
The company didn’t see a vacant site it liked as much, he said.
“It’s just hard to find,” he said.
Partington and Skelly used Fort Worth developer Chris Brassard, from whom they bought the site, as a consultant to help move the project through the city regulatory process.
The group raised the height of the one-and-a-half-story building by 1.5 feet to complete a full second story. The open interior space once housed a basketball court and bleachers, and the ribcage frame meant there were no columns that had to be addressed, Brassard said. The interior concrete block walls were also non-load bearing.
The project was aided by a 10-year freeze on its city valuation for property tax purposes that was available for investment in the Fairmount historic district.
The building was the former Laneri High School gym, built in 1951 and designed by Boese and Harkrider of Fort Worth, according to Historic Fort Worth archives. Numerous city leaders over the years were said to have played basketball there. Ownership of the site dates to the family that founded the O.B. Macaroni company.
Brassard bought the property in 2006, with conceptual plans for 14 apartments. But when the recession hit, “it was clear the residential market was not a good place to be,” he said.
He turned next to non-medical office use and had developed construction documents on a potential deal with one group, but that also fell apart, he said.
Skelly turned up in 2009, scouting locations for Good Life.