Presbyterian Village Athens, the large complex under construction between Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 441, plans to open its gate in December for a phased move-in of residents.
The continuing care retirement community has contracts on 94 percent of the units, according to Alex Patterson, president and CEO of Presbyterian Homes of Georgia, and residents will move into those units over several months, beginning with the December start.
Patterson said he is working with the Georgia Department of Transportation on possible changes to the traffic patterns on U.S. 441 to handle traffic from Presbyterian Village Athens.
So far, GDOT has rejected installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of Lavista Road and U.S. 441, according to Patterson. The main entrance to Presbyterian Village Athens will be across from Lavista Road.
One option suggested by GDOT, Patterson said, is a pair of special U-Turn lanes on U.S. 441, one between Lavista Road and Hog Mountain Road and the other between Lavista Road and Wild Azalea Lane.
Only right turns would be allowed from the Presbyterian Village Athens exit and from Lavista Road under this plan, Patterson said.
In a more than hour-long interview last week, Patterson covered a range of topics, including upcoming plans for a $15 million bond hearing for the project, the project’s exemption from property taxes, and the nature of contracts residents sign for entry to Presbyterian Village Athens.
I asked Patterson after the bond hearings for Presbyterian Village in September of 2018 if he would be willing to do a video interview with me about the project. He agreed immediately, but I kept putting it off to respond to other things going on in the county.
When County Attorney Daniel Haygood announced at the Industrial Development Authority meeting earlier this month that Presbyterian Homes planned to seek issuance of additional bonds, I contacted Patterson to ask for clarification of that request and again asked if he would be willing to do a video interview.
In the interim, Patterson moved from being vice president of Presbyterian Homes of Georgia to president and CEO, succeeding his grandfather and then uncle in that position. He assumed the title on Feb. 1 of this year.
Presbyterian Homes of Georgia, based in Quitman in the south of the state, is the management company that oversees the six Presbyterian Homes Of Georgia locations around the state, including the one here in Oconee County.
I visited Patterson last Thursday (Feb. 20), at the Presbyterian Homes suite, 1520 Jennings Mill Road, north of the Oconee Connector.
Patterson moved to this area four years ago to oversee the Oconee County project and lives in the south of the county, commuting to Quitman and the other campuses.
When Patterson joined me in a small reception room, I asked him if he was willing to move his chair so we could use a model of Presbyterian Village Athens as a backdrop. He agreed.
I began my interview by asking Patterson about the status of the project.
Patterson told me that management will be meeting with those who have made a deposit for a unit on the 70-acre complex on U.S. 441 northeast of Watkinsville to learn of their needs and develop a schedule to bring those people onto the campus.
The planned construction of what Patterson has called an end-cap on the three-story apartment building will not delay opening of the campus, Patterson said.
Presbyterian Homes had delayed adding that part of the building pending a sense of market demand, Patterson said.
The company now is in a position to move quickly on the issuance of up to $15 million in bonds and actual construction of the addition, which will bring the total number of apartments to the originally planned 100.
Patterson said he is expecting the required TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act) hearing to be in March, construction to begin in April, and construction to be completed by the December move-in date.
“There’s not another facility like this in the area–the life plan community that can take somebody all the way through skilled nursing, should they need it,” Patterson said. “And so we’re excited to get to bring that here.”
Use Of Model
Early in our interview, Patterson used the model on the wall behind him to discuss the overall physical character of the project. (Details also are available on the Presbyterian Village Athens web site, and in the drone video below.)
|Patterson With Model 2/20/20|
At the core–and most easily visible to those passing the construction site on U.S. 441--are two three-story buildings.
The building closest to U.S. 441 is the health care facility, which includes 30 memory care units on the first floor, 40 skill nursing home units in a nursing center on the second floor, and 30 assisted living units on the top floor.
This building is connected to an amenities building that is used by the whole campus.
Included is a wellness wing with an indoor saltwater pool, exercise classroom rooms, and exercise machines.
The amenities building also includes a culinary wing with a pub, a kitchen, and dining space. Patterson emphasized that the pub will not have a liquor license.
To the left of this complex is the three-story apartment building, currently U-shaped but soon to have an endcap making it a rectangle around a courtyard. The endcap will increase the number of units from 71 to the originally planned 100.
The project also includes pickleball courts, a tennis court, a putting green, and 107 cottages and 22 villas (11 duplex buildings) running from Wellbrook Road to the property’s end short of Wild Azalea Lane. The total living units are 329 (107 cottages, 22 villas, 100 apartments and 100 healthcare units).
Comparison With Other Projects
Earlier this month, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners approved another large senior living complex, Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus, on 62 across from Home Depot on the Oconee Connector and Dowdy Road. The project will have 398 living units.
Armand Vari of Active Senior Concepts of Suwanee, the developer of Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus, told the Board of Commissioners that the market was underserved, even with projects such as Presbyterian Village Athens coming online.
Patterson said the rate of sales for the Oconee County project been exceptional. He had issued a contract for a unit just before we met, increasing the rate to 94 percent.
I asked Patterson to compare Presbyterian Village with Celebration Village.
“From what I understand they are going to build a facilty that has independent living, some assisted living, and some memory care along with some outdoor amenities and things,” Patterson said.
“We have all of those aspects. The piece that we go beyond them on is the skilled nursing center,” he added. “That’s the one extra piece that other facilities in this area do not have.”
Phase 2 of Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus includes 86 independent living units that can be purchased by persons who are 55 years old or older, who, Patterson said, can build up equity.
In contrast, Patterson said, Presbyterian Village Athens owns all of the property, and “You don’t have to pay any taxes on it. You don’t have to pay any insurance on it. All of that burden is our burden. All the maintenance and upkeep is our burden because we own the property. We own the asset.”
In the rezone hearing before the Oconee County Planning Commission, Vari from Celebration Village and Ken Beall, representing the property owner, made much of the “upscale” nature of the project, with Beall calling it the “Ritz-Carlton of retirement communities.”
I told Patterson I would describe Presbyterian Village Athens as “upscale” as well, given his comments about the project’s layout. Patterson agreed with the description, but said “It’s not the most upscale that you’ll find in this industry.”
The state of Georgia only has 17 continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), Patterson said, with Presbyterian Village Athens being the 17th. Some of the CCRCs in Atlanta are more upscale, he said.
“We make a promise that we have been able to keep for 71 years,” Patterson said, “that if you live with us, and you exhaust your financial resources, you will not be asked to leave.”
Last year Presbyterian Homes of Georgia spent more than $3 million from fundraising to help people who cannot otherwise make the payments, Patterson said.
Patterson said he thinks the Oconee County market could support a “rental-based model” that would provide services to a less affluent clientele and that Presbyterian Homes might consider that in the future.
“I would say that the not-for-profit folks like us are probably more likely to do that than folks on the for-profit side,” he said. “It gets hard on the for-profit side to make the numbers work the way you want to in that vein. We have a tendency in the not-for-profit world to operate at lesser margins.
“So we would be more likely to come in in the future in this county, expand what we’re doing, by a rental based option for people out there some time,” he said. “It won’t be on this site, because we’ve pretty well covered this site, but we could certainly find another piece of land and do that.”
Presbyterian Homes of Georgia has two such facilities, Philips Tower in downtown Decatur, and Calvin Court in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.
These two federally subsidized properties cater to senior adults, age 62 or better, who are on a low or fixed income.
Presbyterian Village Fees
Patterson described the relationship between the residents and Presbyterian Homes as a “hybrid” between “fee simple ownership and rental ownership.”
“They are not really renting. They don’t really own it,” Patterson said.
The residents pay an “entry fee coming in the door, which you don’t normally do that in a regular rental circumstance,” Patterson said.
“That payment of an entry fee coming in the door is really an abatement or prepayment of the rental costs in the future,” Patterson said. Without that prepayment, monthly rental fees–which Patterson called “service fees,” would be much higher, he said.
“And then the unique feature is you get the money back to whatever degree you agree to coming in the door when you leave independent living,” Patterson said. Independent living is in the cottages, villas, and apartments.
That refunded money can be used to pay for the monthly fees for assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing care, Patterson explained.
Nature Of Contracts
Those entering Presbyterian homes have three options for their entry fees. They can have a contract for a 50 percent refund, for a 90 refund, or for no refund.
The larger the refund percentage, the higher the entry fee, Patterson said, but Presbyterian Homes tries to give “people on the no refund end the best possible shot of coming into the campus.”
“We have a series of retired ministers coming that don’t have enormous amounts of assets,” he said, and because we have that option for them we’re able to bring them in. We can’t get everybody. I wish we could. But I think we’re casting a very wide net for people in the area.”
Those who enter at the level of assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing do not pay an entry fee.
Patterson said, based on the experience at other facilities, only about 20 percent of those who enter the campus with independent living contracts will ever need skilled nursing.
Residents in independent living cottages, villas, or apartments are guaranteed access to higher levels of care regardless of the refund type, Patterson said in an email exchange after the interview.
“If a person came in with no refund they just would not get anything back from their IL (Independent Living) stay and would start paying monthly at the next level of care,” he wrote.
“If they start running short of funds, our Caring Hands Fund kicks in to bridge the gap for them,” he wrote, referring to the charitable donations. “That 70-year-old promise is one of our greatest attributes.”
I asked Patterson to give some estimates of the range of fees that someone will pay to enter Presbyterian Homes Athens and then to stay in the facility.
He used some figures in response, and then elaborated on them in an email exchange.
Patterson emphasized that he was using “approximate numbers to give a general sense of the breadth of our offerings.” The residences vary in size and appointment.
Entrance fees vary from about $200,000 at the no refund option on the smallest apartments to $700,000 for the largest cottage on a 90 percent refund, Patterson said. These entry fees are for an individual.
If a second person is to occupy the residence, an additional $26,000 is added to the entry fee, regardless of space or unit type.
Service fees would range from roughly $2,900 per month to $3,300 per month for the first person, Patterson said, with an additional $896 per month for a second person.
The service fee covers one meal per day at the amenities building and full use of the recreational facilities on the campus. The meal allowances accrue if not used and do not expire, Patterson said.
In the cottages and villas, the tenants pay their own gas and electricity, Patterson said. In the apartments, those costs are built into the service fee.
Tax Exempt Status
At the rezone hearing for Celebration Village Athens–Oconee Campus, developer Vari told the Board of Commissioners that he expects the project to be paying $1,019,824 in property tax at build out. Without the project, Vari said, property taxes are $11,978.
Presbyterian Village Athens is tax exempt because of its non-profit status, and I asked Patterson to indicate what ways, other than by paying property taxes, it was contributing to Oconee County.
“We recognize that we use fire department, we use the police department, we use roadways, we use utilities,” Patterson said. The company is willing to help cover government costs as a result, he said.
“Let’s use a fire department as an example. Let’s say they need a new fire truck,” he said. “We can contribute in that regard. That’s a way that we can step in and help the county with the cost, given that they’ve given us this status, or we have this status as a tax exempt organization.
“We’re not paying regular property taxes. We understand that we need to contribute and be a part of the community,” Patterson said. “So that’s a good example for us. So we’ll try to stay in close connection with the county leadership.”
Benefit To Industrial Development Authority
Patterson said that Presbyterian Homes could have gone to any number of government agencies to issue the tax exempt bonds it has used to finance Presbyterian Homes Athens, but it chose the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority so the fees would stay local.
“That’s an alternative-to-tax way of bringing money to the community,” Patterson said. “That’s given the IDA an extra $600,000 over time here to use as they see fit to promote the county’s future.”
(County Attorney Daniel Haygood used a figure of $968,750 in his earlier estimate of the revenue the IDA would gain from the bond sales.)
The use of the bonds is helpful to Presbyterian Homes, Patterson said. “Because we can get a lower overall interest rate from it, we can focus those resources back on the people we’re serving.”
“I’ve worked in a lot of different places,” Patterson said. “I’ve worked on the for-profit side of health care. I’ve worked on the not-for-profit side of health care.
“My favorite part of working for the Presbyterian Homes of Georgia is that this is the first time I’ve been in the not-for-profit where I really feel like we act like a not-for-profit.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “We have to run our business. We have to pay our bills. And we do that. But at the end of the day, if we identify a need that a person has that is living on one of our campuses, we meet the need.
“The more money that we can avoid paying in interest gives us that much more that we can spend on our mission,” he said. “And that’s our goal. So that’s why we go after the tax exempt financing, because we have the option as a not-for-profit. It clears more margin, makes it available for mission. And that’s our goal.”
One of the big concerns raised when Presbyterian Homes was seeking a rezone for Presbyterian Village Athens was traffic on U.S. 441, where the campus will have its main entrance and exit, and on Hog Mountain Road, where it will have a secondary, back entrance and exit
Patterson said Presbyterian Homes had built into its budget money for a traffic signal at the main entrance opposite Lavista Road.
“So far, the Department of Transportation will not approve that,” Patterson said. “They do not say we meet a warrant. The warrant is necessary to build a traffic signal at this intersection.”
As a condition of the rezone, Presbyterian Homes had agreed that turns out of the campus onto U.S. 441 would be right-turn only, and Patterson said that GDOT is proposing to restrict turns out of Lavista Road to right-turn-only as well.
“And they want to put what they call an RCUT in the median here,” Patterson said, pointing to U.S. 441 between Lavista Road and Hog Mountain on the model behind him. RCUT stands for Restricted Crossing U-Turn.
The proposal is to have another RCUT on U.S. 441 between Lavista Road and Wild Azalea Lane, Patterson said.
“They are telling us, based on their statistics, that that is the safer option even above a traffic signal,” Patterson said.
Patterson said in an email exchange after the interview that “I have not seen a drawing of it yet. I hope to have something soon, but I have not been given a time frame on that.”
The rear entrance onto Hog Mountain Road is for residents only and will be gated, Patterson said.
As a condition of the rezone, traffic exiting from that gate will only be able to turn left, and Patterson confirmed in an email message today that those plans remain firm.
Presbyterian Homes also will add a right-turn lane to Wellbrook Road at the intersection with Hog Mountain Road to keep traffic from backing up at that intersection.
During the rezone hearings for Celebration Village the developers emphasized that one of the amenities provided to residents is bus transportation, thus reducing the traffic demand at the very busy intersection of the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge Parkway.
Patterson said that a part of the service fee paid by residents of Presbyterian Village Athens is complimentary local transportation as well.
On Oconee County tax rolls, the owner of the Presbyterian Village Athens property is listed as Westminster Presbyterian Homes Inc. of Quitman.
Patterson said the full legal name is Westminster Presbyterian Homes Inc. DBA Presbyterian Village Athens. He said Westminster Presbyterian Homes was a legal entity that existed when the Oconee County project began and was used for convenience.
Westminster is one of eight corporations used for Presbyterian Homes operations, Patterson said, and only Presbyterian Village Athens falls under it.
Patterson said his grandfather, Rev. Dr. Frank McElroy Sr., “was a preacher for the Presbyterian Church” and that he started the original organization in 1949 to serve widows in the church in Quitman.
That original organization was owned by the church and funded by the church, Patterson said.
Presbyterian Homes was spun off from the Church in 1981 as a not-for-profit and has remained in that status ever since, Patterson said.
Patterson’s uncle, Dr. Frank H. McElroy Jr., took over leadership in 1971 and remained in that capacity until Patterson took over on Feb. 1.
Patterson said that 10 years ago he was recruited out of hospital administration world to be part of the organization “with the idea that the Board might consider me as a successor for the CEO and that has come to pass.”
Odds And Ends
Patterson moved to the area four years ago to head up the Presbyterian Village Athens project and said he does not plan to move out of Oconee County now that he has his new assignment.
Rather, he will visit all of the facilities and travel to Quitman, where the organizational headquarters remains, as needed.
Presbyterian Village Athens has to have all of its staff “hired, trained and ready to go as of the move in date,” Patterson said, and he will spend the time this year getting the staff in place.
Patterson estimated that he will be hiring 200 employees, counting full and part time. He did not haves a breakdown of how many full- or part-time employees will be hired.
“For anybody that’s interested in working in this field, we’re about to provide a plethora of opportunities for them,” he said.
About 65 percent of the people who will be moving into Presbyterian Village Athens will come from Clarke County or one of the counties bordering it, and a sizeable number will come from the Lake Oconee area, according to Patterson.
“The people who live on these campuses are not the elderly in the old rest home,” Patterson said. “That’s not what we have. The people that come to live here are interested in a vibrant, engaged life. And they will engage in this community and add great value to it.”
“We’re not just a big pretty building on the hill,” Patterson said. “This is truly a community. That’s where our focus is. That is where the greatest amount of health and longevity is tied to that feeling of community and belonging. And I think that’s what they’ll find here on this campus.”
The interview with Patterson lasted just more than 70 minutes. I had prepared 11 questions with subparts, and we went through them in order.
At points, however, I doubled back to ask clarifying questions.
As I noted in the text above, I also asked some follow-up questions via an email exchange with Patterson in the week that followed that interview.
I was seated and taking notes and had the camera on a tripod beside me during the interview.
The first video below is of the entirety of the interview.
The text above follows the questions asked, with discussion of affordable options starting at 20:25 in the video, discussion of how someone joins Presbyterian Village Athens at 25:50, and discussion about tax the property’s tax exempt status at 41:05 in the video.
The video focus is on Patterson throughout, with little change in focal length.
It also is possible to listen to and download the audio of this interview HERE. The file is is in mp3 format.
The second video below is a drone image of the Presbyterian Village Athens construction site, dated Feb. 17.
I watched the drone video on the Presbyterian Village Athens web site and asked how I might include it in this post. Patterson gave me a copy for use here.
I have narrated the video.