In the zone
Residential wellness communities aim to maintain, improve health of buyers

By Pamela Dittmer McKuen
Special to the Tribune
Published November 12, 2006

Outside the desert town of Borrego in Southern California is the 800-home enclave of Montesoro, where healthy living is a calling. Residents can hike the canyon with an adventure guide, work on lengthening their range of motion, dine on organic cuisine or relax in the meditation garden.

"The programming is unique and diverse, but the common bond is people who want to live longer and live healthier," said Montesoro developer Greg Perlman.

Montesoro is one of a growing number of residential wellness communities, designed to maintain and improve the health of their buyers. The amenities vary, but most offer a holistic complement of fitness, nutrition, education and relaxation services and programs. Fitness centers and spas, along with personalized treatment plans and exercise regimens, are hallmarks. Some developments team with nearby medical facilities to provide seminars or consultations. Many are environmentally friendly, indoors and out. They may or may not come with golf courses.

And at least one, the Flamingo in South Beach, Fla., also looks out for the well-being of its canine residents: a landscaped dog run adjoins a doggie day spa.

Montesoro, which is under construction, has a golf course. It's designed by Tom Fazio, but the development also has an ayurvedic healing spa, organic fruit and vegetable garden, yoga center and performance training facility. The starting home price is $550,000.

"You can go to a spa for a week, and that's great, but there are people who want to live the lifestyle on a permanent basis," Perlman said.

Those who do tend to be Baby Boomers, who are approaching retirement years and not exactly thrilled to be growing older, said James Chung, president of Research Advisors, a Boston-based market research firm.

"This is all about the quest of wealthy, aging Baby Boomers to redefine aging, just as the Boomers have reinvented every life stage that they've moved through," he said. "The Who [rock band] nailed it decades ago when they sang about their generation and said, `I hope I die before I get old.'"

But wellness amenities aren't found only in resort areas hours from the city. They're headed to downtown Chicago as well. Several new condominiums are finding ways to offer respite from the bustle.

"All this technology that is supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient, like cell phones and computers and hand-held devices, has stressed us out in terms of expectations of response times and workload and accessibility," said Cyndy Salgado, vice president of the development marketing group for Koenig & Strey/GMAC in Chicago. "People are looking not only in their vacations for release from these pressures but also are asking, `what have I seen that I can I incorporate into where I live?'"

Buyers and developers are looking to resorts for inspiration, she added.

One project under construction is Astoria Tower, a 240-unit condo in the South Loop that will provide a residents-only spa on-site. That's a big draw for Ginna Ryan. She's the chief financial officer for the building's marketing company, Mauge, and liked the project so much she bought in.

"For me, the spa means accessibility and time-savings," she said. "I run a business and have a small child. I have a difficult time taking time for myself and making appointments and going somewhere. Having it in the building is as good as having it in your own home."

Starting prices at Astoria Tower range from $239,900 to $1.09 million.

Scheduled to open in 2009 is the Mandarin Oriental Chicago, a 516-unit hotel and condominium plus spa near Millennium Park. The spa, to be open to the public, will offer therapuetic treatments such as aromatherapy rooms for relaxation and ice caves, a treatment of Scandinavian origin that alternates hot and cold water and air for invigoration. Prices range from the $550,000s to $21 million.

Rather than seen as frivolous or extravagant expenditures, spa treatments increasingly are integrated into an overall wellness program, Salgado said.

"It's amazing to see the menus of services that address the specific needs," she said. "Just with massages, there are so many different types: sports therapy massages, deep tissue massages. They're not frivolous when you see substantive health benefits."

"Right now, it's a Baby Boomer market, but we're also seeing our clients introducing their senior parents to their first spa visit, and their kids will grow up with the idea of visiting a spa as something you do for good health," said Sundara's Minsky.

Boomers also are better informed about health conditions, causes and remediations than previous generations, said Rick Hayduk, vice president of hospitality for the Travelers Rest, S.C.-based Cliffs Communities.

"They're saying, `I know I'm going to live longer and I can live better and I'm going to fight [the aging process] as long as I can with the avenues at my disposal,'" he said.

Opened in the early 1990s, The Cliffs Communities consists of seven developments in the Carolina Preserve between Asheville, N.C., and Greenville, S.C. Nearly 1,000 homes have been built, about one-quarter of the planned total. Throughout the Cliffs are golf courses and fitness centers that offer nutritional and weight management counseling. Restaurant menus include raw and vegetarian selections, with many ingredients coming from the onsite organic farm. Other amenities are marinas, horse stables, spa and nature center. Homesite prices start at $200,000.

Alan and Marveen Portelli of Naperville visited the Cliffs this year and bought a site where they will to build a second home. Active adults, their routines include golf for him, hiking for her and yoga and Pilates for both. They're happy to know they can continue those activities when they are away.

"I used to have a treadmill in my basement, but using it in front of the TV by myself, I was bored to death," said Alan Portelli. "But my wife and I go into a [fitness center], and we do lots of stuff we'd never on our own. If I spend a lot of time down there, I don't want a treadmill in my family room in South Carolina."

Another Cliffs buyer is Bob Gonnella of Deerfield, who also plans to build. His primary interests run toward golf and tennis, but he's tried some of the vegetarian items at the restaurants.

"My taste buds are not on the adventurous side, but the vegetable wonton was good," he said. "When I'm down there, I make more of an effort to be more practical and more sensible" with diet and exercise.

"It's part of the attitude," said Gonnella, who is in his mid-40s. "Now I want to take my parents down there."

Closer to home is Sundara Inn & Spa, which opened in Wisconsin Dells in 2003. Last year, eight two-bedroom, two-bath villas were sold for $750,000. The baths have massaging shower jets and "mood-lifting" chromatherapy tubs that shoot rays of light in soothing hues beneath the water. Glass-walled treatment rooms overlook private gardens and patios with outdoor shower and soaking tub.

At Sundara, technicians and therapists make house calls. The cuisine is 95 percent organic, and cell phones and pagers are not permitted in common areas.

About half of Sundara's villas have sold, and more are in the works, said marketing manager Carla Minsky.

"The medical industry has long made the connection between stress and health concerns," she said. "If you're going to have a second home, you want a place to rejuvenate."

In Evanston, the 99-unit Winthrop Club high-rise condo is being built to certification standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. The lobby is designed with Zen-like serenity in mind, and units are finished with sustainable and non-toxic materials such as bamboo flooring and no- or low-volatile organic compound paint. The building also will have a fitness center and pool. Base prices range from $329,000 to $1.85 million.

"Green building and wellness are certainly connected," said Winthrop Club developer Bob Horner. "People have varying levels of sensitivities to building materials, and those sensitivities impact their respiratory systems and enjoyment of their homes."

So far the trend of healthy-lifestyle housing is most evident at upper price points, but it's expected to trickle down to more affordable communities and to home renovation. Not every new subdivision will come with a staff of personal trainers and nutritionists, but the clubhouse may well have a massage room and meditation garden.

"I'm not sure I see meditation or maze gardens and yoga being huge draws for Joe Six-pack yet," said Chung. "But running and walking trails have seen a real renaissance. They are a lot cheaper than golf courses, and of far more interest to more of the residents."

In the not-too-distant future all homes will be built or remodeled with wellness in mind, said Dan Taddei, director of education for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Des Plaines. This fall, the association piloted an educational telecourse for contractors on green remodeling. "The vision is not just remodeling for green or wellness, but that will be the way we do business," he said.

Salgado agreed. "People want to enhance their senses of enjoyment and good health and well being," she said. "I don't think we'll see this trend go away."