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Boomers Flock to Niche Retirement Communities

Daniel Bortz

Retirement communities aren't just geared toward golfers and pool loungers anymore. Niche retirement communities are on the rise, says Andrew Carle, the founding director of George Mason University's Senior Housing Administration, a management program for retirement facilities. "Retirees want more choices," Carle explains. "When you have 78 million baby boomers, they have a lot of expectations with retirement."

Carle adds that the market for niche retirement communities will continue to explode. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," he says. "The days where your only choices are assisted living or a nursing home are long gone."

Specialized retirement communities fit retirees' needs for a variety of hobbies and cultures. The most popular are university-based retirement communities, which Carle refers to as UBRCs, which offer retirees the opportunity to attend campus events, like concerts and arts programs, as well as sit in on classes. Kendal, a retirement community near Oberlin College in Ohio, capitalizes on its relationship with the school by having string quartets perform at its facility. About 37 percent of Kendal residents are alumni or former faculty and staff of the school, according to the community's website.

Other niche retirement communities offer a more unique experience. The national average rent for an assisted living community in 2011 was $3,477 monthly, according to a Metlife Market Survey. Here's a look at seven that break the mold without breaking the bank, according to Carle, who says they're equivalent in price to regular retirement communities.

Express yourself. Burbank Senior Artists Colony in Burbank, Calif., targets a specific demographic: aspiring artists. Americans looking to paint well into their 60s and 70s or write their first novel can do it at Burbank. The 141-unit community boasts a 40-seat performance theater, artist studios and classrooms, a library, and art display galleries. Rent runs between $1,300 and $1,900 per month, not including healthcare services.

Shoot for the stars. Astronomy lovers can gaze at the stars among others with an affinity for the night sky at Chiefland Astronomy Village in Chiefland, Fla. The village's skies aren't affected by light pollution as much as some other spots, which explains why stargazers flock to the community, where nearly every home has a built-in telescope.

Take flight. Aviators gather at Spruce Creek Fly-In, a community just a few miles south of Daytona Beach, Fla. Built around a training facility used by the Navy in the mid-1970s, Spruce Creek was formed by a group of aviators from Atlanta. "They thought this would be a great way to combine a place for their business in the sky and a place to raise their families," says Ken Renner, a 54-year-old resident. Renner raised his daughter at Spruce Creek and has lived in the community for more than 20 years.

Renner's home is one of more than 1,500 in the area. The community comes together for events like the annual Wings & Wheels Day, a celebration of Spruce Creek's love of cars, motorcycles, and airplanes. Aside from aviation, the community offers a country club with an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, and social groups for everything from kayaking to quilting.

Live well. Health enthusiasts rejoice at Fox Hills Club, a Bethesda, Md., retirement community with a calling card of "wellness" offerings for the mind, body, and spirit. Retirees take advantage of the gym, which is stocked with Keiser athletic machines designed for elite athletes but well-suited for seniors, a full-service spa, three health-conscious gourmet restaurants, organic herb garden, indoor golf range, putting green, outdoor walking trails, swimming pool with electronic lifts, and onsite physical therapy. If that's not enough to burn off the calories, there are daily classes including water aerobics as well as an onsite personal trainer. Units are for sale and priced between $600,000 and $2 million, according to the New York Times.

You've got mail. One of the more unique retirement communities is Nalcrest, the letter carriers' retirement community, about 70 miles east of Tampa, Fla. This community serves as a resting place for mail carriers who've spent years delivering mail, always on the lookout for biting dogs. Thankfully, Nalcrest doesn't allow them. Carriers tired of delivering through bad weather have found a haven at this picturesque community, where they can relax in the Sunshine State's weather. It features 500 garden-style apartments, arranged in clusters of four to 10 apartments, with monthly rents ranging from $390 to $475 for one-bedroom apartments, according to Matty Rose, a spokesman for the community. All residents must be 55 and older.

Give peace a chance. Rocinante is a retirement community in Summertown, Tenn., for aging hippies. At the 100-acre community, named after Don Quixote's horse, residents must build or buy their own living quarters and be able to support themselves. Rocinante charges community members $100 per month in dues.

Hit the saddle. The family-owned and operated The Ridge at Chukker Creek in Aiken, S.C., draws retired equestrians from throughout the country. Located on beautifully wooded and gently rolling land, the community offers sweeping views of horse pastures, a spring-fed pond, and a nature preserve. Residents can explore the various trails on horseback, then park the beautiful animals in one of the community's shared barns. Single-family homes with land start at $219,000.

Twitter: @DanielBortz

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