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Downtown Redevelopment and Retiree Attraction: Good Timing

April 4, 2014  |  Michael Notartomaso
Dublin's First Friday Concert Series at the downtown Market on Madison is a big draw for retirees.

More than 10,000 Americans turn 60 every day and that figure will increase to over 12,500 a day through 2020.The Census Bureau projects that Americans 65 and older will make up 19 percent of the population by 2030.
 
Baby Boomers, many of whom delayed retirement, are now looking for a place to enjoy, said Jeff Fleming, chairman of the American Association of Retirement Communities. The AARC is a not-for-profit professional association, established in 1994 for the purpose of promoting the economic enhancement of communities through the promotion of retiree attraction as an economic development strategy. Fleming, assistant city manager for Development of Kingsport, Tenn., is no stranger to retiree attraction and what it can mean to a city. Kingsport spends $55,000 a year on retiree attraction that results in a $25 million annual economic impact.
 
Community and business leaders in places such as the coastal towns of Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Bluffton, SC, are looking to the growing retirement community to help rekindle local economies. They’re rethinking sporting and shopping developments, as well as art centers, to attract on-the-go retirees looking for an array of easily accessible activities.
 
The 78 million boomers – born from 1946 to 1964 – have always broken the mold in terms of setting trends, and some investors and business and community leaders see their retirement as no different. They see an un-precedented, multi-billion-dollar opportunity to offer new products and services to an active demographic group that’s expected to live longer than previous generations.
 
The town of Hilton Head Island, SC, has no official plan or tactics in place to attract boomers, but Mayor Drew Laughlin is exploring ways to stoke the community’s struggling arts hub and bring a University of South Carolina Beaufort satellite campus to the island. He said retirees wanted cultural and educational amenities in addition to sandy beaches, golf and tennis. The nearby town of Bluffton has grown more than 800 percent in the past decade, largely from empty nesters and retirees.
 
A few Georgia communities are also reaping the benefits of retiree attraction with more expected to embrace the idea in the near future. Tourism is a natural catalyst to retiree attraction. Pre-retirees seeking a destination community for their retirement generate more than 2,000 room nights in Greene County and pre-retirees “shopping” The Landings community directly generate nearly 1,000 room nights a year, which brought about a local retirement co-op.
 
Rebecca McWilliam, president of Georgia’s Magnolia Midlands Travel Association, understands the impact. “As the average retiree visits a potential area three to five times and spends approximately $203 during each overnight visit prior to deciding upon a permanent retirement destination, the economic impact of retiree attraction as a component of tourism is indisputable. While researching their retirement home, retirees shop our downtown businesses, eat at local dining destinations, and experience the attractions unique to Georgia and the Magnolia Midlands region.”
 
The AARC analyzes the retiree market and assists communities interested in marketing to this ever increasing portion of the population. Dublin/Laurens County, Georgia’ s first AARC Seal of Approval Community, is another early adapter and proponent of the retiree attraction strategy.
 
“Our city council has focused on our downtown and amenities that will attract retirees in cooperation with our downtown development authority over the past several years through investment in SPLOST terms of revenue, volunteerism and investment,” said Dublin Mayor Phil Best.
 
Joshua Kight, executive director of the Dublin Downtown Development Authority adds, “As we’ve explored the residential potential of downtown, one of our surprising discoveries was that retirees are our primary market. As retirees downsize out of large family homes, they are drawn to downtown’s unique, smaller spaces that don’t require yard maintenance. Loft apartments give retirees the ability to shut the doors and take a week’s vacation to visit the grandkids or go on a cruise without worrying about the safety of their stuff. The private sector has responded to this market, and most of our available downtown residential units are upscale one to two bedroom lofts geared to empty-nesters. From a development standpoint, this market has energized our downtown restaurants and theatre programming. The city has responded by focusing on safety issues, like new lighting and dedicated downtown police officers, and amenities, like parks, sidewalks and fountains, which are important to retirees and benefit the whole community.”
 
Five states have established retiree attraction marketing/economic development programs: Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina. The Executive Directors of three of the five states’ programs are on the board of the AARC.
 
An August 2013 study; Golden Rules, commissioned by the OneGeorgia Rural Policy Center, was recently the focus of a Georgia Trend article by Jeffery Humphries, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia. Here are three of Humphries Top 10 reasons that retiree attraction makes good sense:

No. 4: To generate economic impacts. It takes only 1.8 in-migrating retirees to generate one job, so 100 in-retirees generate 55 jobs.

No. 3: Georgia has a very advantageous tax structure, a big advantage when it comes to attracting retirees. This is due to its generous retirement income exclusion; sales tax exemptions for food, drugs and medical services; and the fact that there is no estate or inheritance tax.

No. 2: The time is right. Demographic and economic trends are coming together to create an unprecedented opportunity in U.S. economic history for retiree-based economic development. The retirement of the baby boomers is a very strong demographic trend that is virtually locked in until approximately 2028. Ongoing economic recovery and improving housing markets will increase geographic mobility.
 
A lot of leading-edge boomers who have been locked into their current homes by the housing bust are beginning to move as the ice thaws in the nation’s housing markets. That’s happening right now.
 
Michael Notartomaso is CEO of The Hilton Head Group, Inc. and Vice-Chairman of the American Association of Retirement Communities.