Earlier this year, news media outlets went wild over the story of an 86-year-old Florida woman who had spent the last seven years living aboard a cruise ship.

But thanks to a little known locally grown business, senior citizens across the country are living the cruise lifestyle -- minus the rough seas and at less than one-fifth the cost.

Created by Lincoln native Breck Collingsworth, Resort Lifestyle Communities opened its first complex, Savannah Pines, on April 15, 2001.

Since then, Resort Lifestyle Communities has built 10 five-star communities for independent seniors from coast to coast -- and has six more under construction -- in Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Denver; Columbus, Ohio; Portland, Maine; Naples, Florida; and Las Vegas.

Resort Lifestyle Communities prides itself in hotel-style living and amenities for seniors who want to experience retirement in full.

The company has found its niche in a growing population of healthy and active seniors who want to live the good life without the stresses of home ownership, maintenance and the inevitable isolation when you’re retired and everyone else in your neighborhood works.

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, the senior housing market is one of the fastest growing according to a January 2013 article in “Building, Design + Construction” magazine.  Only 5 to 8 percent of seniors will choose to leave their homes for multi-family complexes, but that still equals about 6 million people in the U.S. who will seek out generation-specific housing, the magazine said.

Collingsworth recognized the possibilities years ago.

The son of a homebuilder, Collingsworth grew up helping his father build apartment complexes in Lincoln and Omaha.

His father-in-law, a subcontractor who installed flooring in Lincoln’s Brentwood Estates retirement facility, introduced him to the growing need for senior housing.

At the time, most housing options were cookie-cutter. Nursing homes were being replaced by assisted living facilities and acute care centers. Independent seniors were looking to move into apartment-style complexes offering freedom of choice, but with the comfort of knowing someone else could cook the meals, tidy the home, scoop the snow, drive them places and arrange entertainment.

Oregon-based Holiday Retirement Corp. built the first of these senior living communities in 1971. Today, it has more than 300 facilities all over the U.S. -- including Brentwood Estates.

“We used some of their ideas and added our own twists,” Collingsworth said.

Business forecasters with “Building, Design + Construction” magazine say those twists are critical to the success of senior living facilities -- particularly those for independent and active seniors.

Resort Living Communities, like Holiday Retirement, rolls meals, housekeeping, transportation and other amenities into the monthly rental fee.

But as the name implies, Resort Living Communities offers resort-style living with gourmet meals prepared by a staff chef, housekeeping, valet parking, transportation, entertainment and more.

Apartments feature today’s home-building trends -- open layouts, larger rooms, walk-in closets. The facility is like a village unto itself with a theater, shops, spa, exercise and game rooms, and grab-and-go cafes.

“As this next generation transitions, they will be more interested in amenities and flexibility,” Collingsworth said.

Most people know of Savannah Pines as the site of the second costliest arson ($7 million) in Lincoln history. On Easter Sunday 2000, fire gutted the center and west wings of the nearly completed construction project. Collingsworth rebuilt, opening Savannah Pines one year later.

Although Resort Lifestyle Communities welcomes residents age 55 and older, most people do not move into the resort community until they are in their mid-70s.

The average age of Resort Lifestyle Communities residents is 84, Collingsworth said.

“For 90 percent of our residents, this is their last place of residence,” Collingsworth said. “People will stay until circumstances dictate they can’t.”

Resort Lifestyle Communities facilities do not offer medical-type services such as personal bathing assistance or medication distribution. However, it does partner with local home health care providers so people can hire the help if necessary.

“We are based on a social model, not a medical model,” Collingsworth said.

That social model is hotel-style luxury with a strong sense of community.

Despite Resort Lifestyle Communities’ Nebraska roots, Collingsworth said it is unlikely he will build more in his home state -- simply because the Lincoln and Omaha markets offer many senior housing options and other areas of the country face a shortage, especially in resort-style living.

“Thanks to medical technology people are living longer and healthier,” Collingsworth said. “With that increase in longevity comes the increase in desirability of living in these types of communities.”

In 2009, 5.3 percent of seniors lived in independent senior housing. In 2014, the rate increased to 6.7 percent.

“In 10 years we will see a steep climb,” he said.

People can cook and clean in Resort Lifestyle Communities if they want, but staff can also provide the service at no extra cost.

Staff are expected to be top-notch.

“Our staff become their family," Collingsworth said. "What’s most important to our residents are the intangible things. It’s like taking your kids to school for the first time. You like the building and the gym, but then you look at the teachers and the classmates and see how well your child will fit in.

“Great managers focus on the needs of residents and anticipate what they need, and get to them before they ask,” he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.

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