CINCINNATI — Baby Boomers and other retirees have been leaving their suburban lawns and big houses to live near vibrant sports, arts and entertainment in downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine for a decade or more.
Now, University of Cincinnati and some of its retired professors are working to build a retirement village with at least 120 condominiums or apartments to capitalize on the sprawling campus' same attractions.
"There are 40,000 people who come to a (UC) football game, 8,000 who come to a basketball game. There are numerous (College Conservatory of Music) performances. Who wouldn't want to be closer," asked Bert "Carl" Huether, a retired biology professor and president of UC's Emeriti Association.
Sent Forth by Santa
The genesis of the idea came in a meeting in June among Huether, UC Provost Beverly Davenport and President Santa Ono, who encouraged Huether and the UC Emeriti board that he leads to pursue it.
UC financed two studies about the project, Huether said.
A group co-chaired by Huether and Patrice Burke, a development associate at Uptown Rental Properties, is working to find the best location for the retirement community. The group is also collaborating with UC to find a developer to finance and build it.
Uptown, a major developer of student housing around UC, wants the university to consider developing one of two properties it owns in Mount Auburn: a six-acre site on Wellington Place adjacent to Inwood Park near Auburn Avenue; and a smaller site on the southwest corner of McMillan and Auburn.
"We think it would be great for the community of Mount Auburn, great for UC and great for Uptown to have a university-linked retirement community developed," Burke said.
They plan to develop a village that includes independent living and assisted living housing and common rooms for visiting speakers, classes and social functions that appeal to the great collective intellect of a community full of professors with time on their hands.
"We believe there are three things that attract emeriti: intellectual enrichment, camaraderie and free wine and food," Huether said. "There are many emeriti that I would be happy to have coffee with every morning — and, of course, some that I wouldn't. I think that kind of thing is very attractive."
Depending on interest, the community could provide full-time nursing facilities as well, though there might not be a market for that given nearby existing facilities, Huether said.
The first group that the community would target is UC's retired faculty, including about 700 in Greater Cincinnati and 400 around the country, Huether said.
The second group would be UC alumni 55 and older. Last, current faculty and staff 55 and older making plans to transition into retirement would be welcome. And senior members of the general public also would be welcome, he said.
Burke said the community could appeal to any retirees interested in taking advantage of UC's sports, arts and fitness facilities. If it were built on either Mount Auburn property that Uptown is offering, it would also be located just north of downtown and Over the Rhine.
"People have a misperception of Mount Auburn as economically depressed when actually there is a fair amount of owner-occupied housing," she said. "What we really love about Mount Auburn is the location, the parks, the architectures.
Burke said the failure of the recent park levy was a disappointment since it would have funded a major upgrade of Inwood Park. But she's hopeful that the upgrade will still take place using other funding sources given the momentum that has built around the idea.
The community would be about giving back to UC as well as taking advantage of its resources. Retired professors who live near UC would have an easier time offering up their expertise to tutor students or guest lecture.
"The institution is finally getting around to the idea that retiring faculty want to retire to something. They don't want to just get dumped," Huether said.
Janette Brown, executive director of the Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education, which advocates for such communities, said universities across the country are building retirement communities on or adjacent to campuses for the same reasons that are attracting UC to the idea.
"Universities understand that you also have dedicated alumni and parents of current faculty and staff interested in a comprehensive facility nearby for independent living and assisted living," she said.
Brown, who taught at University of Southern California's Davis School of Gerontology, said some schools like UC-Berkely have embraced the idea while USC-Davis has not.
University of Cincinnati would be the second state school in Ohio with such a community, following Miami University's Noll Village. Private colleges Denison University and Oberlin also have communities.
Huether hopes to complement the retirement village with a so-called emeritus college at UC, which would be a conduit to tap into the vast resources that retired faculty members could offer students and faculty.
"We ran a focus group where emeriti said things like, 'By God, I was like the president of the United States when I was teaching. The day after I retired, nobody gave a damn about me,'" he said. "We're saying this is an opportunity to let faculty to continue being active."