Pickleball, anyone? Hamilton firm builds a retirement ‘theme park’ for active boomers – Business

Tony DiFruscio is a confessed Disney-holic.

“I’m a huge Disney fan,” says the president of Zest Communities, a Hamilton property developer. “We go there every year with the family, my oldest son went there for his honeymoon. We’re Disney fanatics.”

That’s one reason DiFruscio turned to a theme park designer to help create a retirement village, The Village at St. Elizabeth Mills, just outside Hamilton.

“Rather than going and finding a traditional planner, I said we have to find someone who’s done resorts,” he explains.

Since when did a residence for retirees become a resort? The answer: when the baby boomers started leaving the workforce. They’re more active and affluent than previous generations, says DiFruscio, and they will expect a lot more than a daily card game or television show to keep them happy.

Golf, yoga, and pickleball will be among the activities at the village, along with wining, dining, shopping and socializing, in a themed environment with a historic mill at the centre. A poster for the retirement community pictures a silver-haired woman on a motorcycle with the slogan, “Once you’re over the hill, you start to pick up speed.”

Tony DiFruscio believes the baby boomer generation has the money and the ambition to live a resort lifestyle. His company, Zest Communities, has turned to a theme park designer to help create a retirement village near Hamilton. (CBC)

Zest Communities isn’t building its village from scratch, though. It bought an existing retirement community of 900 residents, St. Elizabeth Village, three years ago. Renovation of existing bungalows is underway, and additional residences, including an apartment building, will be constructed. Eventually 3,000 units are planned.

‘I don’t want a ferris wheel in my backyard’

But not all of the current residents are thrilled with the $800 million plan.

“To be truthful, I thought. ‘Oh dear God, I do not want a ferris wheel in my backyard,'”  says Paulette Johnston, who’s been living at St. Elizabeth for seven years. Even after discovering there will be no ferris wheel, and that the theme aspect will be tasteful, she’s not interested in upgrading to one of the new residences.  

“I’ve looked at the places and they are just beautiful,” she says. “But for me to move, I’d be losing money.” Johnston says she paid $119,000 for her current home. One of the new models, a modest 1,000 square feet, would cost her $380,000.

Paulette Johnston says the new units at The…

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