As Seen in South Florida Business & Wealth
When Patricia Will founded Belmont Village Senior Living more than two decades ago, she was on a mission: “Belmont Village Senior Living is a company I founded to really change the paradigm of what senior living ought to look like,” says Will, the company’s president and CEO.
Her ethos was commitment at every stage of the process: “We are a fully integrated developer and operator, so we find the land, build the buildings and then the most important thing takes over, which is a very robust operating infrastructure to bring the buildings to life. There isn’t a conflict between great hospitality and great care. We want to make this stage of life as rich as it can be, all the while bolstering care needs.”
Why is this important to South Florida? Because Will says that although Belmont is in eight states and Mexico, she’s most excited about the venture her company is launching with Baptist Health South Florida. Opening in 2022, Belmont Village Coral Gables will represent the marriage of top-tier senior hospitality and a best-in-class medical institution. The facility will join the dazzling, resort-y Belmont Village Fort Lauderdale as one of the top two South Florida projects of their kind.
Will is a leader in her field because she’s unabashedly all-in. “We’re not acquirers,” she explains. “We create our own buildings from scratch—we create the spaces that we know work incredibly well for our customers.” Don’t come looking to her to implement a management staff for another venture; Belmont manages its own properties and is not interested in diluting its quality or its brand. “We stay with our buildings forever,” Will says. “The very first building I built, next to the Texas Medical Center, opened in 1997 and is still within our midst.” She says that stability is Belmont’s hallmark—plus innovation, a necessity in health care.
Much of the new property’s innovation will be delivered by Ana Lopez-Blazquez, the executive vice president and chief transformation officer at Baptist Health South Florida. “We’ve grown to react to the needs of our community,” she says. “Health care has been very dynamic.” But that wasn’t always the case, she recalls. “I remember when I got into this business, that it was all about hospitals, hospitals, hospitals. I think that technology, insurance and the desires of consumers and how they like to receive their care has evolved into different types of settings.”
While the traditional hospital remains Baptist’s anchor, Lopez-Blazquez view on outpatient care is more flexible. That’s how senior living became part of the Baptist mix—but it was hardly a snap decision. “For decades the community has asked us to enter this space, but we have been very hesitant because it wasn’t in our wheelhouse or part of our core business,” she concedes.
They were not hospitality experts. “We knew what we didn’t know,” she says. So what changed? The right partner. The search took a year, but from 20 candidates, Belmont emerged as the winner, and for the same reasons that Will keeps top of mind: the all-in-one formula of site development, operations and management—and as close to a forever commitment as possible.
“We wanted a lifelong partner,” Lopez-Blazquez says. “We didn’t want someone to come in, build it and leave. Baptist Health is a significant community asset, we’re committed to the long term, and we wanted a partner with the same kind of commitment.” For Lopez-Blazquez, touring a Belmont facility in Dallas and seeing its success first-hand was like a revelation. And what sealed the deal was Will’s involvement: “We were significantly impressed with Patricia’s knowledge, passion, and her commitment to the space.”
Partnering with a major medical institution is how Belmont succeeded in the past, and this new partnership proved to be that and more. “We came together in terms of strategy, project and programmatics, but also financially,” Will says. “We were completely aligned. It was the natural opportunity of a lifetime.”
The facility that emerged, built by Fort Lauderdale-based Moss Construction, ticked all the safety and hospitality boxes, with noncombustible construction, life-safety design and generator-backed power, but set within an amenity-rich, residential environment with ample outdoor space. Moss, which has Soho Beach House as part of its portfolio, is a construction powerhouse, with projects ranging from hotels and luxury condos to sports arenas, ports, educational facilities and courthouses. But senior living facilities are a specialty.
For this Belmont location, Moss executed a mixed-use structure with retail on ground floor, plus a quasi-retail space designated for Healthy Living Center by Baptist Health, which focuses on health care, wellness and prevention. “It’s not only available to residents but also to the community,” Lopez-Blazquez says. “It fills a need in the area. It will contain exercise facilities, physical therapy, physicians on rotation, education—a range of resources.”
“I sit on the boards for multiple centers for longevity,” Will adds, “but, increasingly, what we want to focus on is how well you live past age 75.” Along with 200-plus apartments, the common areas represent half of the structure’s quarter-million square footage. “It’s a beautiful design that integrates fully into Coral Gables,” says Jason Martin, a vice president and project executive at Moss. “It flows from courtyards to terraces, and on every floor you see a different amenity.”
And as with any type of living environment, there’s that old saw: location, location, location. It’s clearly relevant in the case: Belmont Village Coral Gables will be tucked inside one of the loveliest and most architecturally significant mixed-use cities in the state, if not the country. And it has not gone unnoticed that the nearby Shops at Merrick Park will be attractive for visiting families. In fact, when SFBW conducted a snap poll to learn what features were most valuable to interested locals, location polled right behind care capabilities, proving that Miami’s tropical, urban way of life is seductive and stimulating at any age.