Green retirement high rise offers amenities for aging population

Eric Mortenson / The Oregonian /


PORTLAND — The first clues that Mirabella Portland is a different kind of retirement home are in the basement.

That’s where 85-year-old Bob Ivey keeps his stash of madrone, koa and cherry chunks for woodworking projects. The retired CPA brought his lathes, sander, router, clamps, drill press and saws with him when he and his wife, Barbara, moved in shortly after the building opened two years ago.

The Mirabella management didn’t just tolerate his hobby, it involved him in planning the woodshop layout during construction in Portland’s South Waterfront District. Now he’s teaching other residents to make decorative wooden bowls and other projects.

The shop is adjacent to the building’s underground parking, where a lift system stacks four cars in the space of two. The system saves room and gives nod to the fact that residents don’t often need cars. When they do, attendants retrieve them from the stacks.

Off to one side is a rack of colorful kayaks. Marketing director Adam Payn, in perfect deadpan, says Mirabella is thought to be the first retirement center in the country with resident kayak parking.

Along one wall is a rack for golf bags. It was one of the early projects of the group that uses the woodshop. They also made more than 100 bookends for the Mirabella Library on the ground floor, which features a gas fireplace, comfy chairs and 6,500 titles donated by residents. The volunteer organizer, Linda McCammon, was librarian at two elementary schools in the David Douglas School District in east Portland.

There’s more — bicycle parking, art studio, auditorium, exercise gym and pool — and it represents a new frontier of retirement living. An estimated 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 17 years and many of them, true to their generational nature, aren’t about to shuffle off to the old folks’ home.

For those with the health and energy — and the means — a more engaging type of retirement living is emerging.

Mirabella Portland is a striking example: 220 apartments in a 30-story salute to new urbanism and sustainability. The building, designed by the Portland architectural firm Ankrom Moisan, has won five design awards and is the world’s first LEED-Platinum certified Continuing Care Retirement Community, or CCRC.

Yet it retains the age-in-place assurance many older people are looking for. As age and circumstance dictate, residents can move from independent apartment, to assisted living, to a “memory care” Alzheimer’s wing. Residents recovering from hip replacement surgery or a heart attack, for example, can rehab in a 44-bed skilled nursing unit on the second floor.

The arrangement and “strategic location” appealed to Ron and Muriel Mendonca, who were the second couple to move in when the building opened in 2010.

“Four years’ worth of planning,” says Ron Mendonca, a retired high school physics teacher and accountant. “We don’t have any children, and we decided we’d better take care of ourselves.”

It wasn’t a decision made lightly. Moving into Mirabella or any other retirement community means giving up a home and decades of independence. Many seniors dread a slow fade from vibrancy.

“That’s the biggest fear people have in leaving their home,” Ron Mendonca says.

In their case, staying busy is medicine. Muriel Mendonca, a former elementary school teacher and hospital volunteer services coordinator, chairs the Programs and Social Activities Committee. The group puts on lectures, trips, recitals and other events, an average of 16 programs per month.

The building has a residents’ council and 14 committees, and hums with the intellectual firepower brought to bear by the retired doctors, lawyers, artists, accountants and educators who live there.

Keeping up is a delightful challenge, resident Bruce Howard says as he pedals an exercise bike and reads a Spanish Civil War novel on his iPad.

“The other people here are very interesting, very stimulating,” he says.

Howard jokes that he’s “just a small town dermatologist” who’s outranked by two other retired dermatologists he’s met at Mirabella — one a former hospital department head, the other a former medical school professor.

He and his wife, Olga, moved to Oregon from Colorado to be closer to a son in Lake Oswego, and chose Mirabella over a retirement facility in McMinnville. “The pull was we’ve never lived in a large city before,” he says.

Ivey, whose tools equip the woodshop, says he’s become much more social than he was when living at home.