BRADENTON -- One of the nation's largest owners of retirement communities is buying into the Bradenton market and is bringing its own residential health care model with it.
On April 1, National Church Residences of Columbus, Ohio will take ownership of Water's Edge of Bradenton, a 325-resident retirement community on 32nd Ave. W. Florida Christian Homes, the Bradenton nonprofit that owns Water's Edge, will merge with National, another nonprofit, inserting its facility into the larger company's 330-community portfolio.
Don Westerhoff, president and chairman of Florida Christian Homes, said his company has been negotiating the merger with National for six months. The merger comes at a good time for Water's Edge, which has a site approval valid until February 2015 to begin building a $12 million, 80-unit assisted living facility on its 34-acre property.
Water's Edge currently has 104 independent living villas and 108 apartments. Twenty-eight of those apartments are assisted living units.
"The main reason for the merger is to partner with a larger organization to build our last building, and to assure the continuation of the mission of our retirement community long into the future," Westerhoff said. "They're in a position to come to the table with the necessary fi
nancing to do it."
While the merger will not be official for a few more days, Westerhoff said he decided to announce early because some potential residents have come to him with concerns that Water's Edge is in financial trouble. He said the facility has been fully occupied for three years, and that it has a waiting list.
When National does take over, it will get a relatively new facility. Water's Edge opened its villas in 2005. The apartments opened in 2008.
The recent construction comes with debt. Florida Christian Homes sold $22.8 million in bonds to a single investment trust to pay for construction. It still owes $20 million.
None of that is dampening National's enthusiasm. Mark Ricketts, the company's president and CEO-elect, said Water's Edge will fill an important spot in National's property list. Although National operates retirement communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico, it has yet to export its residential health care model out of the assisted living facilities it owns in its home state.
Ricketts said National will use Water's Edge as a beach head from which to move its non-acute care services to its 12 Florida independent living facilities if and when they add assisted living units. Those services will include memory care, but not skilled nursing.
The closest existing National facility to Bradenton is The Courtney, a senior living property in Palmetto.
Acquiring a facility that already does assisted living care will simplify National's medical move into Florida.
"It thrills us to death," Ricketts said. "It's a lot easier than building new."
National is taking a cautious approach to building the planned assisted living units at Water's Edge. Ricketts said his company has not committed to the new facility, but said that National will decide one way or the other before next February.
Westerhoff said the merger isn't a financial buyout. National will place enough members of its board of directors onto the Florida Christian Homes board so as to have a majority. Westerhoff will remain with the organization as a board member.
Water's Edge employees are expected to retain their jobs. The community employs approximately 45 people. Ricketts said National has no plans to replace any of them.
The company will take over management of the community on April 1. Riverwood Retirement Management is the current property manager.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.