MorningStar River Oaks' sky terrace is the type of setting you don't expect to find at a senior living community. (Photo by Mariella & Luis Ayala)
Ken Jaeger founded MorningStar in 2003.
MorningStar River Oaks is located in the heart of the Kirby corridor, close to top restaurants and shops. (Photo by Mariella & Luis Ayala)
MorningStar River Oaks' club room is a retreat of its own. (Photo by Mariella & Luis Ayala)
MorningStar River Oaks' bistro is restaurant worthy. (Photo by Mariella & Luis Ayala)
The assisted living dining room at MorningStar River Oaks gives residents plenty of options. (Photo by Mariella & Luis Ayala)
The Club Room located on the sixth floor of MorningStar RiverOaks features magnificent views of downtown Houston. (Rendering courtesy of Munoz + Albin Architecture
MorningStar offers many life-enriching activities for residents, including access to an art studio.
MorningStar offers a variety of suite options. (Rendering courtesy of Munoz + Albin Architecture)
The bistro offers a variety of fresh fare to MorningStar residents.
MorningStar's new River Oaks units offer sweeping views of downtown Houston.
MorningStar residents have access to a concierge onsite.
It is a lobby worthy of a high-end mid-rise — modern, striking, full of comfortable places. And even a pizza oven. There is nothing that outwardly telegraphs that this is a retirement home. Even if everyone who lives at MorningStar at River Oaks will be over 55 years old. With many 85 or older.
Which is the point. This does not look like anyone’s typical idea of a retirement home because who would want to live in a typical retirement home?
“Hopefully you’re sitting in what we would call the anti nursing home,” says John Mooz, Hines senior managing director. “This is intended to be the polar opposite of what I think we all grew up understanding was senior care.
“And (MorningStar CEO) Ken (Jaeger’s) firm has done a great job of saying that’s not what seniors want. That’s not what it should be.”
Instead, it’s MorningStar River Oaks — a six-story mid-rise in the heart of Upper Kirby (at 2315 Richmond Avenue) designed by renowned architecture firm Munoz + Albin. Yes, the same Munoz + Albin that designs Hines’ hippest and most interesting high-rises like The Victor in Dallas and The Residences at La Colombe d’Or and Brava in Houston.
Which is the point.
Hines is jumping into senior living in a major way — including this partnership with MorningStar, which also includes a new senior community in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood and likely one in Dallas relatively soon — for good reason. But it is in anything but a conventional way.
“We keep trying to raise the bar,” Mooz tells PaperCity.
This reporter was given an exclusive tour of the new building that many in Houston (including those who’ve written about it) have never stepped inside.
For Ken Jaeger, who founded MorningStar in 2003 and is something of a pioneer and crusader for a different level of senior living, his company’s first community in Texas is already showing signs of being several steps above.
“It’s going to be not only the best senior living community in the state of Texas, but in America,” Jaeger says. “It will be a showcase.”
That is a lofty vision. One that may be best seen on MorningStar at River Oaks’ sixth floor sky terrace. This stylish open air space would be at home in any one of Hines’ other recent showcase high-rises. It is easy to imagine relaxing with a glass of wine among friends in this outdoor space.
If this is the future of senior living in America — at least for those who can afford MorningStar’s $5,800 to $9,300 per month rental rates — it is a chilled one. One that comes with its own culinary trained chef team, a full art studio, beauty salon, spa and an exercise room with sweeping views of downtown.
This is moving on up for the silver fox crowd.
Hines’ Senior Moment
Seeing Hines moving into senior living in such a major way may seem surprising at first. After all, this is a firm known for cutting edge towers in the heart of the world’s most attractive cities. But even a cursory look at the statistics of aging in America throws things into a much different light.
“Two numbers that really stick in our minds,” Mooz says. “The number of seniors increases by 50 percent in the next 10 years. You go from 24 million to just shy of 36 million. And in the next 20 years, it doubles.
“You almost have 50 million seniors living in the United States at that point. And all those seniors are going to demand a higher level of senior living experience.”
MorningStar is meant to be part of the solution, one that keeps well-off seniors in the parts of the city they love rather than shipping them out to the suburbs.
“These seniors want to stay in the neighborhoods where they’ve lived their lives,” Meg Meliet, Hines director senior living & healthcare development, says.
Meliet experienced firsthand how a family member moving into a good senior community can change the family dynamic for the better.
“When you have a loved one move into the community, the family can go back to being the family,” Meliet tells PaperCity. “Not the caregiver. Or the bad guy. Or the rules enforcer. Or the one that’s going to make you go walk on the treadmill. Or take your medicine.
“When you come here, you get to be the daughter, the grand daughter. Which you can lose when you’re at home.”
MorningStar can be a place for seniors who needs a little — or a lot of — extra help. It boasts 85 assisted living suites and 27 memory care suites for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
“It’s anyone from an independent living resident who wants a maintenance free lifestyle all the way to someone who needs all those activities met,” Jaeger says. “The activities of daily living.”
The first couple who moved into MorningStar River Oaks consists of a husband who is completely independent and a wife who needs some assisted living care. MorningStar is a place where they both could feel comfortable. With all the perks of an upscale almost resort-like setting.
“We’ve learned a tremendous amount of lessons from multi-family over the years,” Mooz says. “High ceilings. Tremendous amount of light. They’re all going to be demanding that. Because everyone wants to live like that now.
“So why wouldn’t you make it great?”
MorningStar’s Serious Mission
Beyond the courtyard with a fireplace and outdoor kitchen, the theater room and the Club Room hangout area, MorningStar River Oaks does bring a serious mission. Especially on the memory care floor where residents suffering from dementia live.
MorningStar puts memory boxes outside of each memory care resident’s room. These little see-thru cases are filled with pictures and other meaningful mementos that help prompt memories for those dealing with dementia.
“People with dementia have better longterm memories than short term,” Jaeger notes. “So we’ll have pictures of when they were first in the Air Force, pictures of the kids when they were younger. . . it sort of triggers them.”
The memory care floor also has its own dedicated outdoor space with glass walling for protection. There is some serious care going on in a MorningStar community.
“We hire for the caring heart,” Jaeger says. “Someone who will hold their hand. Someone who will look them in the eye and tell them they’re beautiful. That is so calming for a memory care resident.”
“It’s going to be not only the best senior living community in the state of Texas, but in America. It will be a showcase.” — MorningStar founder Ken Jaeger
For Jaeger, it has to be more than just about a building. This deeply religious founder and CEO is very proud of the MorningStar Foundation’s work in places like Ethiopia, Tanzania, Cambodia and Nicaragua, where it transformed an orphanage in a barren warehouse (with one bathroom for 60 people) into a full modern, clean campus built by volunteer teams.
Standing in the lobby of MorningStar River Oaks, looking at a picture of one of those humanitarian trips, Jaeger gets a little noticeably emotional. This clearly means something to him. Jaeger lives in Denver, but both his daughters went to Baylor University and he feels connected to Texas.
Building on that theme of giving back, the director of each MorningStar senior living community — and Houston becomes the 30th city to have one — picks a nonprofit for that community to help support.
Any community needs a heart — and MorningStar’s approach centers around trying to empower its residences. A residents council is formed that decides on things like which movies to show on movie night and where to make excursions. Whether it be a night at the Houston Opera, a trip to The Galleria or an arts museum outing.
Activities — and keeping active — are key. Many of MorningStar’s future residents have been world travelers. These are not people who just want to sit around in a room, almost warehoused away like at some more traditional retirement centers.
“When you have a loved one move into the community, the family can go back to being the family. Not the caregiver. Or the bad guy. Or the rules enforcer. — Hines’ Meg Meliet
To help foster more regular natural interactions, each residential floor of MorningStar River Oaks includes its own themed living room area. An open space with chairs and things like games, books or a fireplace. And comfortable chairs to sit in. Just another spot for residents to sit down and talk or play bridge.
“I really think Hines’ next move should be to build a cruise ship,” Jaeger says with a laugh. “That’s what they built here. This is a cruise ship you don’t want to stop. You want to get on it and continue to eat, live, wine and dine with a life full of activity.”
The old notions of what a retirement community is are being pushed away. MorningStar River Oaks is part of something new. With some serious real estate power behind it.
“There are a lot more seniors,” Mooz says. “And a lot more need for extremely well thought out senior living communities.”
This place is certainly a distinctive start.