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A grand entrance will greet residents and visitors as they enter Welbro's "Casselberry Allegro" senior living facility in Casselberry.
A grand entrance will greet residents and visitors as they enter Welbro's "Casselberry Allegro" senior living facility in Casselberry.

The boon in building senior living facilities is so compelling that one well-established construction firm has set up an operation to focus on this area.

Welbro Building Corp. of Maitland has brought on a staffer to lead the effort, studied the market and set its sights on senior housing to become a considerable contributor to the bottom line within a couple of years.

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The company has a long history of building hotels, time shares and dorm rooms, and sees many similarities with the way a senior living facility is structured, especially on the hotel side.

But even by the company's own reckoning, the senior living building phenomenon won't last. Construction is at such a fevered pitch, Welbro feels the market will likely wind down within two years.

Supply will start outstripping demand, said JP Hurd, senior preconstruction manager at Welbro, which manages construction projects. Hurd joined the firm in December to be its point person for senior living projects.

But right now, "Entities that don't adapt will be left behind," Hurd said. "There is a spike in Central Florida."

The spike comes as people are seeing the prices of their homes rise, giving them more proceeds from sales to use as rent money at senior living facilities. Starting monthly rents range from under $2,500 to roughly $4,000.

Central Florida is so popular because it is a vibrant location, culturally, educationally and sports-wise, Hurd said. "Today's senior doesn't just want to play shuffleboard or golf."

Builders have seized on this. In 2010, six senior living facilities were being built in Central Florida. So for this year there are about 20, according to data Welbro provided.

The types of facilities that are largely being built now include three levels of service: independent living, assisted living and units for people with Alzheimer's. Last October, the state Health Care Administration lifted a 14-year state ban on building nursing home-type facilities. The ban had been put in place to mitigate Florida's high Medicaid spending in relation to nursing homes.

The state lifting the ban opens the door to construction of new types of nursing homes and even their melding with senior living facilities, covering the whole spectrum of senior care.
And once the expected slowdown comes in 2017, there will still be work to be done renovating older facilities so they can compete with the new ones, Hurd said.

But right now its all about new construction, and demand at a rapid clip.

Welbro this fall will break ground on a 154-room, $25 million-plus luxury senior living facility in Casselberry. The company has other senior projects in the pipeline, Hurd said.

They will stand aside other focus areas of Welbro, especially hospitality and education, and other contracts that come its way. For instance, the company is currently managing construction of two large pedestrian bridges across Hotel Drive at Downtown Disney as a way of relieving severe congestion.

Welbro was started in 1979 by Butch von Weller of Weller Pools and Gary Brown. It is now majority owned by CEO Steve Davis and President Bruce Holmes.

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