The Crown Group

It is no secret that there is a need for affordable senior communities across the United States. When The Crown Group decided to diversify its scope in 2008 as the traditional commercial development market dried up due to the recession, it wasn’t just looking to expand its portfolio. It was looking to bring much needed services to northeast Illinois.

A commercial real estate development and brokerage firm, The Crown Group was founded in 1984 by Mark Lambert and Craig Whitehead. It has worked on the development of projects totaling more than $500 million in value and more than 4 million square feet. Its experience includes mid-rise and single-story office buildings, shopping centers, grocery and drug stores, as well as manufacturing and warehouse facilities.

The Crown Group entered the supportive senior living market at a site in Round Lake Beach reintroduced to them by their partner, Martin Jablonski of Landmark Realty and Development. To complement the ownership team, Jeff Rappin and Steve Rappin of Evergreen Real Estate Services became partners in the early stage of this development. After successfully working to have the property rezoned from retail and going through a competitive state process to get access to affordable housing tax credits, the ownership team was able to move forward on its plans to develop the Oak Hill Senior Living project.

Experience Matters

As this was The Crown Group’s first foray into the affordable senior living space, the company looked to partner with companies that have long track records in affordable senior housing. Leading construction of the project has been Skender Construction, a construction firm founded in 1955 that has developed experience in array of sectors, including commercial, education, healthcare, municipal, residential, retail and senior living.

In fact, affordable senior housing has been one of the core markets for Skender and helped contribute to the firm’s growth.

“They had the opportunity with this project, and it was very conceptual,” says Mark Skender, Skender Construction’s executive vice president. “We were involved from the design phase all the way to the finish. We put a budget together and were selected as contractor.

“The principles of lean construction come in during design, estimating and budgeting, so design was done to meet those estimates and budgets,” Skender adds. “The same is true of scheduling. Our planning system controls production of each part of the project and measures progress every week.”

The 94-unit project includes 47 studio apartments and 47 one-bedroom apartments.

Designed to include state-of-the-art mechanical systems and ample community and activity space, the property has a 5-acre garden site that is fully landscaped. The $23 million project was designed in accordance with LEED principles. It is currently at the silver level and is reaching for gold. Everything from insulation and mechanical systems to use of recycled and low-emission materials were taken into account so the project would live up to LEED standards.

Supportive services at the facility will include three meals a day, weekly housekeeping, life-enriching activities, scheduled transportation, medication management and light nursing assistance. Residents who are in need of and eligible for financial assistance will have access to funding through the Illinois Medicaid program.

Moving Forward

Operating the facility will be Pathway Senior Living. An experienced firm that already manages 12 supportive living communities, Oak Hill will be the 13th supportive living community in its portfolio. Oak Hill Senior Living includes one-bedroom and studio apartments with full-size refrigerators and microwave ovens. Other amenities include a state-of-the-art movie theater, outdoor patio with built-in barbecue and fire pit, billiards room, greenhouse, gazebo, fitness center and community dining room. Model homes opened in June, and the community is scheduled to open in August 2012.

“The construction process is now in its final stages, and everything will be done in a few weeks,” Skender says. “The whole construction process took about nine-and-a-half months. We use an innovative project delivery approach that uses lean construction principles. That is why we can complete a project like this, which usually takes 14 months, in less time. We will be 100 percent done in the second week of July, and people will be able to start moving in by August.”

Opening the model homes has been important because it has allowed for the revenue stream to kick in earlier in process. Because the project gained momentum early on, it meant models could open within seven months of the start of construction. That is something that is very helpful to the owners because they can start selling earlier. It also helps the contractor because models serve as a mockup and can allow for corrections to be made while the project is in production if needed.

The ultimate goal of the project was to being quality, affordable senior housing to Round Lake Beach. The Crown Group now has experience in affordable senior living, Pathway has another facility it can add to its portfolio, and Skender Construction enhanced its expertise in the affordable senior living market. Because of the strong partnership between project participants, The Crown Group, Pathway and Skender Construction can all be proud of what they have brought to the Round lake Beach community.

“The project was smooth because of the collaboration of the participants,” Skender says. “We had a great working relationship and hit on all cylinders because the people who worked on this were committed to success of project.”

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