A new urban high rise Kendal LifeCare on Chicago’s North Lake Shore Drive

The Admiral at the Lake is rightfully getting a lot of attention as a poster child of post Great Recession senior living development trends. It’s urban. It’s high rise. It’s resident-centered. It’s full. Bottom line? It’s impressive.

The Admiral at the Lake, a Kendal Affiliate
929 W Foster Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 433-1800


The Admiral at the Lake

The Admiral’s east face facing Lake Michigan.

The Admiral at the Lake is the product of the combined historic Chicago Home for the Aged that used to occupy the old Admiral Hotel and Kendal Communities, a nonprofit developer and LifeCare manager with Quaker roots. This was our first exposure to both Kendal and to an urban high-rise LifeCare community.

We plan to write more on Kendal as a manager and a developer along with other multi-community management companies like LCS and LifeSpace, among others.

The new building was opened in July 2012, on the historic site of the Admiral Hotel. The old facility was torn down in 2007 to make way for a new building. The Great Recession induced local Chicago sponsors to affiliate with the experienced Kendal organization in 2009 to secure financing for new construction and complete the project. The new Admiral opened in 2012. As of summer 2015, the independent living units are fully-occupied, a strong measure of demand for what Kendal and The Admiral offer. After touring, we understand the succes.

The Admiral at the Lake

The Admiral at the Lake’s main entry

The Admiral at the Lake fronts the green sward along North Lake Shore Drive near its northern terminus. The neighborhood feels very Chicago with a mixture of toney to tawdry and worn.

Immediately across the street is an upscale Mariano’s grocery store, a Chicago regional chain that calls to mind Whole Foods, though with more reasonable prices (less than “whole paycheck”). Also across the street is an exclusive tennis club. Half a block away is a McDonalds. It’s a five block walk to the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line Berwyn L (elevated light rail) station with subway service to downtown. From the downtown stations it’s a convenient transfer to O’Hare International Airport. Lake Michigan is a four block walk to Foster Beach via an underpass below Lake Shore Drive. Waveland Park Golf Course and Belmont Harbor are nearby, farther south along Lake Shore Drive. Bike and walking trails line both sides of Lake Shore Drive. It’s hard to fault the dramatic view of Lake Michigan and the city. Two manicured and large sixth floor common space rooftop gardens provide stunning vistas as do individual unit balconies on higher floors. Other high rise condos line Lakeshore Drive both north and south. The next layer of blocks away from the lake features pre-WWII brick four story apartments and brownstones, mostly gentrified and converted to condos but with a few eyesores. Both great Uptown restaurant districts and rougher neighborhoods are nearby. It is a very typical urban mix that is the product of economic and ethnic diversity and part of the energy of a big city. If you like Chicago you’ll love The Admiral. Even if you worry about Chicago’s finances and social cohesion, you’re going to be tempted by The Admiral.

The Admiral’s limestone and glass tower steps back as it rises higher to the topmost 31st floor. A comfortably modern entry lobby that would be appropriate in an elegant high rise hotel greets visitors. The 1st Floor is a combination of staff offices, support areas and public rooms, including a multipurpose gathering room with a stage and grand piano. The comprehensive aquatic center is also on this level. It is adjacent to and accessible from a large ground level walled garden with flowering understory trees and a few larger overstory trees. The first thing we saw while waiting in the lobby was a PeaPod grocery delivery van and a taxi dropping off residents in the covered entry drive. Both are notably urban convenience services, not available everywhere.

The Admiral at the Lake

The Admiral at the Lake fronts the green sward along North Lake Shore Drive near its northern terminus. The neighborhood feels very Chicago with a mixture of toney to tawdry and worn.

One of the distinguishing features of Kendal communities is the philosophy of resident-driven activities and patient-directed care. There is no paid activities director, rather the residents are self-directed and organized. Kendal’s principles read like a manifesto of every current best-practice in the senior care industry. While serving people of all faiths or beliefs, The Admiral, as a Kendal community, follows the Quaker tradition of putting principles into daily practice. New construction communities generally start with a lower average -age than the ongoing average age in the resale stage of a community. Even allowing for that, the engaged resident philosophy at The Admiral appears successful in attracting a relatively young and active cohort still highly engaged with the broader Chicago arts community. Perhaps that’s also a function of Chicago. Regardless of the root cause, The Admiral passes one of our key criteria: an active group of residents engaged within the CCRC and with the larger community. The best benefits of a CCRC or LifeCare community are a function of the social environment. The marvelous real estate and health services fail if they don’t deliver the social interconnections. The Admiral succeeds.

Kendal’s Quaker inspired operating principles strongly influence the feel of the Admiral. The LifeCare community offers a fully integrated continuum of care from independent living, to assisted living, memory care and full skilled nursing facility on-site. Kendal was a leader in discouraging the use of restraints or medically unnecessary anti-psychotic drugs for managing elderly patients. This philosophy is now part of Medicare’s Quality Measures (QMs) for nursing facilities. Kendal was practicing care this way before they got credit for it. The Admiral is currently 5-Stars rated overall by Medicare, 4-Stars on health inspections, 5-Stars for Staffing and 4-Stars on Quality Measures (QMs). These results easily place the Admiral in the upper tiers of Illinois nursing facilities.

Remember that Medicare only evaluates the nursing care component and not all operations of a LifeCare or continuing care community. For more on how to read Medicare’s 5-Star rating system see our summary at the following link. https://agingwithfreedom.com/how-to-read-medicare-star-ratings

It’s not obvious from the exterior, but the lower floors, two through five, are a parking garage for staff and residents.

The Sixth Floor is the center of dining, with both a causal fast-serve restaurant and an elegant white tablecloth restaurant. A clubby and large library in rich wood tones, the post office and the roof-top gardens are on the same floor. This is central campus in the vertically stacked community.

The Admiral at the Lake

The Admiral’s  elegant white tablecloth restaurant

The Admiral at the Lake

A fast casual counter service is an on-demand dining option available at the Admiral.

We sampled the fast casual restaurant’s counter service, where the seafood lunch salad was restaurant quality and staff was fast and good-natured. It wasn’t quite up to it’s bistro name in feel or flavor, but closer to any of a number of family chain restaurants like Perkins or Baker’s Square. We were with the director of marketing, so that should be a heads up to staff for best performance. They delivered. We noted the marketing director was very good at engaging both staff and residents by name, with genuine warmth and interest. Other staff seemed equally facile at resident service. We generally like to have more direct contact with residents, unfiltered by staff. This visit didn’t afford that opportunity, but judging by the interactions between staff and residents, The Admiral at the Lake succeeds in training staff to deliver caring service consistent with the Kendal philosophy. We’d still want to interview residents directly before saying yes.

The Admiral at the Lake

The comprehensive aquatic center at the Admiral, includes hydrotherapy for exercise or rehab.

Activity facilities and offerings are comprehensive. Facilities include:

  • a large aquatic center with pool, whirlpool and hydrotherapy offerings
  • performing arts room with stage and grand piano
  • a clubby library is inviting with an extensive collection of books, newspapers and magazines and current technology
  • a yoga/floor exercise room for classes
  • a well-equipped exercise room with a good selection of commercial grade equipment like treadmills, weight machines and ellipticals
  • a crafts room
The Admiral at the Lake

The Admiral’s exercise room features  a good selection of commercial grade equipment like treadmills, weight machines and ellipticals

The activities calendar was packed with both on-site and off-site offerings we’d jump at. Events included live music performances, museum visits and more.

The Admiral at the Lake

Efficient kitchen and dining area in an independent apartment at The Admiral on the Lake.

The independent living units were light-filled with large windows, 9’ ceilings and modern details in the kitchens and baths. Color and finish selections are premium in feel and current in color combinations. And there are those views from a high-rise on the shore of Lake Michigan –stunning. Look south and you can see the downtown dentation like a mythical Emerald City. Look east and it’s the constantly changing scenery of an ocean-scale Great Lake with leisure boats and commercial ships on the water. To the north more high rise condos, office towers and parks curl around a bay where North Shore Drive terminates. When you can see so much of the world, it doesn’t feel isolated even though it’s a self-contained senior living community.

Another advantage of the urban location is access to staff. Staff represented the cultural diversity of Chicago and The Admiral appeared to earn the loyalty of staff with competitive wages and strong training programs. These are good jobs in the urban core.

The assisted living units are organized as neighborhoods surrounding shared dining and activity centers. The residential-like neighborhood kitchens reminded us of a Green House Project design. Assisted-living residents can still elect to use the main dining options and Kendal philosophy encourages continued interaction between independent-living, assisted-living and nursing center residents. Hallways within assisted-living were still residential in character and not hospital-like or institutional, even though medical functionality is there. There was no odor or smell to remind visitors or residents of the indignities of disease and age. The memory care unit included its own enclosed balcony and garden, offering connection with the seasons and the outdoors.

The Admiral at the Lake’s Cost.

Okay, here’s the downside of a scenic, urban location and high-rise construction. Unit costs are definitely on the premium end of the scale. A 1,061 sq ft 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit lists for an entrance fee of $609,000. Given Chicago real estate prices, many local residents will be less shocked than out-of-towners. When we toured, the sale price with discounts was $562,460 with 90% refundable terms. Remember that The Admiral is now fully sold-out of new construction units (and into the naturally occurring resales phase). The local market saw value even at this price level. The Admiral is not accessible to all incomes. That level of entrance fee de facto requires selling a house of equal or greater value plus substantial investment assets to cover the ongoing monthly fees that are jumbo mortgage in scale though not form. You don’t own your unit at The Admiral. The transaction is structured as an entrance fee (principal deposit, 90% refundable) with monthly service fees.

In fairness, the monthly service fees are right in line with what we expect for a well-run, premium LifeCare or CCRC offering. As of July 2015:
Single occupancy monthly fee = $3,179
Dual occupancy monthly fee = $4,245 (+$1,066 for the second person)

The service fees may increase over time and are not fixed but recent annual adjustments are in the 3% range, the de facto rate for credible comparables.

Assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing are preferentially available at below market rates to independent living residents under The Admiral’s LifeCare 90% refundable contract. The monthly rates may seem high for independent living when compared to just a condo or suburban home, but are a comparative bargain in assisted living and the nursing facility. (But remember the community has the investment income and security off the entrance fee as well.) The nursing and assisted living units also attract patients from the larger Chicagoland region who pay market daily rates. Multiple revenue sources help maximize cash flow to support the capital investment in the new high-rise. A high-occupancy, fully utilized facility does protect the financial interests of the LifeCare residents. Despite the high entrance fee price, we came away genuinely impressed.

The Admiral at the Lake’s Cons.

There are two negatives where The Admiral seems behind the curve or below potential.

  1. No life-long learning academic alliance. Some CCRCs offer more direct connections with life-long learning opportunities offered by neighboring universities and colleges. The Admiral does not have formal connections with any of Chicago’s illustrious academic centers. This is partly a function of being resident-driven in activities. It was stated as a resident choice. Residents both teach each other through various activities and use popular sources like The Great Courses. The results may be similar, but it seems like a lost opportunity given proximity to some of the nation’s leading academic centers.
  2. No regional health system alliance. In a similar vein, while conveniently located to nearby academic medical centers and highly-rated hospitals, The Admiral is not formally integrated into any organized systems of health care. Increasingly, CCRCs are recognizing they are examples in practice of integrated health care. Kendal’s own Kendal at Home leverages this insight. Perhaps the challenge is picking among the potential alliances, especially when residents may have competing loyalties. The danger is being left on the sidelines as others pick allies. We don’t think top CCRC performers can avoid addressing health system affiliation forever and stay top performers.

Our Conclusions about The Admiral at the Lake.

We came away impressed with how The Admiral is clearly delivering the benefits of affiliation with Kendal. The Kendal philosophy is obviously woven by staff training into the day-to-day operations of The Admiral and delivers the promised benefits to residents. Architectural design and details were both leading edge. The Chicago urban location is either love or hate it, but in our mind there was more to love than fear, especially for someone already ensconced in Chicagoland. The urban high-rise amenities come at a steep initial entrance fee. The engaged resident community appealed to our desires for a culturally-engaged and supportive cohort of peers. Our reservations are comparatively minor, and centered on lost opportunities for deeper community partnerships in education and health systems.

The Admiral earns its reputation as among the best of the newest offerings in senior living, offering best practices in on-site senior care and high quality design.