Balfour Senior Living’s exclusive Denver downtown community – The Balfour at Riverfront Park, offers an elegant, urban lifestyle with high-end, concierge-quality services.

Balfour Senior Living’s newest community in downtown Denver’s Riverfront Park is award-winning.  The Balfour at Riverfront Park offers top-tier hospitality and luxurious living options, from independent living to assisted living and memory care. Balfour Senior Living does not offer skilled nursing at this community so stops short of the full continuum of care. It is strictly a pay-as-you-go, fee-for-service rental community. The community overlooks the Platte River and Riverview Park with extensive walking paths. The Balfour at Riverfront Park is just a few blocks from the historic, restored, and dynamic Union Station.

The Balfour at Riverfront Park is in the thriving heart of one of America’s golden growth cities of the West.

Balfour Senior Living is clearly aimed at the premium end of the scale with this downtown community. It’s a Robert A.M. Stern design that highlights his “modern traditionalist” design language.  Stern is one of our favorite architects. It’s what made us want to consider the Balfour. You should too. The three to five-story, 203-unit community includes a mix of 112 independent apartments, 65 assisted-living apartments, and 26 memory-care units.

The Balfour

The building authentically felt like the Admiralty Building in London or “Whitehall on the Platte”

Despite researching and reading about The Balfour at Riverfront Park and Balfour Senior Living before our visit, this community was still a surprise! The exterior is pale limestone color brick and cut stone with large arched windows on the first level.  The building authentically felt like the Admiralty Building in London or “Whitehall on the Platte” (rather than the Thames). The high British Empire Edwardian interior is a unique and memorable collection of ornate table lamps, bookshelves and accent chairs. Inside, white marble was used….well… everywhere!

The Balfour Senior Living

The center jewel of  The Balfour is the restored Moffat Train Station.

The project’s centerpiece is the historic preservation and restoration of the Moffat Train Station. Moffat Station’s historic dark-red brick and stone exterior looks new again. It stands in contrast to the surrounding new construction, pale brick “Whitehall.” Inside is an elegant orangery and sitting room with grand arched windows and graciously beamed ceilings. The cabinetry and woodwork are highly detailed.

The Balfour Senior Living

Inside the restored Moffat Train Station is an elegant orangery and sitting room with grand arched windows and graciously beamed ceilings.

Balfour Senior Living Denver

The central interior design theme throughout features saturated colors and brightly colored floral wallpapers sprinkled with the artwork of the Raj — British Colonial India.  Many of the rooms would be at home in a private London gentleman’s club. 

The Balfour Senior Living

The central interior design theme throughout features saturated colors and brightly colored floral wallpapers sprinkled with the artwork of the Raj — British Colonial India.

The interior design is a product of Susan Juroe, who wanted to remember and echo her favorite exotic world travel destinations. Juroe is married to Michael Schonbrun,  Balfour Senior Living’s president and CEO. The Balfour at Riverfront Park is local, independently owned and developed, and not owned or managed by any of the national chains. Balfour Senior Living’s first property was in Louisville Colorado.  Management includes leadership from the Ritz-Carlton school of hospitality made famous by Horst Schulze.

The white table cloth dining room overlooks the Platte through gracious arches that bring sunlight deep into the building.

The Balfour Senior Living

The white table cloth dining room overlooks the Platte through gracious arches that bring sunlight deep into the building.

The interior courtyard and main entry are accessed through a pillared archway over the vehicle driveway. The entry facade feels transplanted from Picadilly Circus in London.

The Balfour’s development took ten years.  It was complicated by the Great Recession and the challenges of building in an urban core. The result is an architectural tour de force with a richly detailed and internally consistent design theme.

The Balfour’s design succeeds grandly

We like architecture so it’s hard not to get carried away when confronted by compelling projects. Still senior design is done with the purpose of creating a retirement community that supports successful aging and facilitates great staff support. We think the Balfour succeeds grandly.

The Balfour Senior Living

The pool room echoes an Indian harem with rich colors (pink!), skylights, and screened panels

The Balfour offers aqua therapy including water yoga and a comprehensive schedule of wellness and exercise programming. The pool room echoes an Indian harem with rich colors (pink!), skylights, and screened panels. Site planning is always a series of tradeoffs.

The Balfour Senior Living

The wellness center and swimming pool are aesthetic highlights at The Balfour and include professional staff to support wellness and rehabilitation

The tradeoff here is access to the spa. The interior courtyard requires that in inclement weather most residents must go over the vehicle entry arch via a third-floor hallway to reach the first-floor spa and exercise facility. That’s exercise in and of itself, but it may also place one of the Balfour’s gems out of sight and out of mind. In good weather, it’s just across the interior courtyard from the front door. The wellness center and swimming pool are aesthetic highlights at the Balfour and include professional staff to support wellness and rehabilitation. We worry if the facilities will function as intended where located. But it is a spa and exercise facility we’d gladly use. It makes you feel good just looking.

The rest of the main floor features a richly paneled club room, a white tablecloth restaurant, and an upscale tres chic beauty salon that can’t help but wow. Some urban CCRCs use these social venues to invite the outer downtown community into the facility. This strategy adds some revenue to operations, but, more importantly, feeds the social dynamism of the CCRC and encourages continued civic engagement by residents. The Balfour does not explicitly open its doors to wider downtown Denver, but we wonder if maybe it shouldn’t. Current occupancy is over 80% leased-up. Good progress in a year and a half, but it felt a bit empty.

A cool technical detail incorporated in the construction of some public areas, like the Club Room, is a sound system that feeds directly into residents’ individual hearing aids. The T-coil system is effective in tailoring amplification to individual needs. An unobtrusive T-coil induction loop or antenna is installed beneath the carpet.  We’ve since researched the system and it’s popular in worship centers and other public venues. Our own audiologist knew all about it. We didn’t. And we were impressed. (See article by )

Balfour Senior Living offers an active lifelong learning program offered in partnership with the University of Denver’s, Osher Institute at The Balfour. Staying intellectually curious and engaged is important. You have that support at The Balfour.

Assisted Living and Memory Care: Impressive

Michael Schonbrun, current Balfour Senior Living president is the developer of The Balfour, is past president and CEO of National Jewish Health (1981-1991). His health care experience influences the health center’s design and operations.  The staff’s training and knowledge along with the overall design of the health center is impressive. 

Balfour Senior Living is using motion-detecting technology to detect “out of pattern” motions in the assisted living units. “Out of pattern” activity might suggest a resident in need or distress. It’s a staff multiplier, without being obvious and an extra measure of safety. The smart monitor can flag a room for staff attention when a resident breaks from their routine.

The assisted living’s second-floor memory care wing has an exterior roof-top patio.  The patio provides secure access to the outdoors by dementia residents. Here we saw engaged staff actively and successfully interacting with residents. The facility was well-designed for staff support and resident safety. It avoided the institutional feel. It does not employ the current “neighborhood” or pod model. The independent living and assisted living wings are more like an upscale hotel or luxury condo in feel. There’s not a whiff of nursing home or old folks home.

The focus on elegant design and premium hospitality risks obscuring some really excellent health and wellness programming.  The staff seems well versed in patient or person-centric care principles.

The facility is pet-friendly and even uses dogs in memory care and assisted living for therapy animals. Dog walking and litter box services are available to independent living residents. We think this is a huge positive.

The Balfour Senior Living model is an emerging trend for newer CCRCs

The Balfour’s health center includes assisted living and memory care. There is no skilled nursing care on site. The Balfour is exclusively private pay and does not accept Medicare. It also doesn’t offer the services that Medicare would typically pay for or that would require Medicare certification. As a consequence, the Balfour isn’t in the Medicare Star-rating system. This is disappointing. Some residents will surely ultimately need the highest level of care at the end of life. They’ll have to get it elsewhere. The original Balfour Louisville, CO facilities include skilled nursing. We personally prefer to pick our provider while still able to do so. But the Balfour model is an emerging trend for newer CCRCs. Limited access to skilled nursing facilities is counter-balanced by facilitating higher levels of care in-place through home services and health care. The Balfour does not have its own home health agency but encourages and supports the use of independent providers by residents within their own unit.

If there’s a shortcoming in the design it is the relative dearth of exterior green space. The architecture is meticulous. The landscape architecture is mostly nonexistent. In fairness, the Balfour is just across the street from Denver’s downtown linear park along the Platte River. So greenspace is nearby and maintained by the City of Denver. Riverfront Park is the center of a growing downtown upscale residential neighborhood. We still would like more plantings in the courtyard and on the rooftop patio. We toured in mid-February, albeit on a warm sunny 60-degree day. It’s possible that there’s more container gardening in the warm weather months.

The Balfour is impeccable in taste and execution. Average entry age in independent living at the Balfour is approximately age 75. Unlike many high-end CCRCs, the Balfour has no dress code rules for the dining room. The developer reputedly isn’t big on rules and loves encouraging independence. We like that. As baby boomers, our studied informality is the emerging new norm. Boomer’s don’t want to dress black tie for dinner, at least not every day.

The Balfour Senior Living

A Balfour Senior Living model apartment (view from kitchen)

The director of medical services gave us a great tour of the hard working end of the Balfour. Our leasing agent toured us around the common spaces and several model apartments.

We closed with a great luncheon from the daily menu. Dan had a delicious seafood bisque, with a chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo.  He finished off with a rich coffee with a perfectly caramelized cream brûlée. Lori had a garden salad, a flavorful fried shrimp dish, and a blueberry cream pie.

The Admiral on the Lake, a competitive peer in Chicago, features neighborhood clusters.  The neighborhood clusters include several small-scale dining for assisted living residents. (Similar in concept to the Green House Project.) By contrast, the Balfour’s assisted living dining remains centralized and segregated from independent living. Albeit, just as elegant as the main restaurant sans carpet. When the Balfour is full, the assisted living dining room will require multiple seatings to serve a meal.  Otherwise, we see a lot of parallels between the excellent urban high-rise Admiral and the impressive downtown low-rise Balfour.

The Cost

The big question for us is the choice to do such a finely detailed, high-end and high-priced facility as a rental (CCRC Type D) and not an entry-fee model (CCRC Type A). The exclusivity suggested by the architecture seems more in-line with the entry fee model. Not a month-by-month rental. We know the leased model is increasingly popular with developers. We wonder if it’s the right fit here. Time will tell. More communities are now offering multiple contract models to fit the individual financial preferences of prospective residents regarding the trade-offs involved in risk management. That might be an answer for the Balfour. For now, the developer sees the rental model as giving more options to the residents. The biggest benefit of the rental model is the relatively low cost of entry. The initial one-time community fee at the Balfour is $15,000. Entry-fee communities are generally the price of a high-end house, in the hundreds of thousands. Even with return of capital clauses, that’s a lot of money not working for you. Balfour Senior Living may be right. The rental model has some distinct advantages for some prospective residents and their families.

Rents for the Independent Living units average $6,500 a month.  Twenty-eight of the 203 units are available to qualified residents at a reduced rent (subsidized housing) — annual income dependent. Who is subsidized and who pays market rate is confidential.

Summary: Balfour Denver

The Balfour at more than 80% occupancy has about 132 residents in independent living after nearly two years in operation, but the memory care and assisted living units are only approximately 50% full. Building the referral network or funnel for the higher levels of care typically takes longer than independent living. The Balfour is at the top end of rental pricing but compensates with lower entry cost than Life Care or Type A style CCRC competitors. Balfour Senior Living is still definitely aiming at top five percenters. The vibrant downtown location and architectural beauty come at a premium. The Balfour delivers exclusivity and exceptional design.

So what’s the Balfour’s unique value proposition? The Balfour offers an elegant, urban lifestyle with high-end, concierge-quality services. Included in this offering is a quality health and wellness continuum, all in the heart of downtown Denver. The contract leaves more of the financial risk management options in the hands of residents. The living environment is brilliantly executed in museum-quality detail.

At the Balfour’s price point service has to be exceptional. Their target customers are cultural creatives and successful professionals and corporate leaders, with high personal standards and high expectations of others. The experience has to match the intricate and ornate architecture. The right ingredients are in place for a great and gracious community.

The Balfour is (or should be) a national destination CCRC, with the ability to attract residents from far beyond the regional Denver market for its unique setting, services, and design.

The rental vs. entry-fee business model is a personal choice among financial trade-offs. There are good arguments on both sides. We’re not sure where we fall yet.

So what about you?

  1. Would you rather have the freedom to control your own financial assets (the fee-for-service rental or Type D model)?
  2. Or, would you prefer the peace-of-mind or certainty that comes with transferring some of the risk of the unknown future to your community (the Life Care or Type A model)?

Let us know what you think in the comments.


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