by Jim Boyle
Editor Elk River Star News
Guardian Angels leadership just wrapped up its most recent round of strategic planning, and they burst out of the board room like thoroughbreds coming out of the gate at Churchill Downs for running in the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re coming into our second 50-year run as we celebrated our 50th anniversary last year,” Guardian Angels CEO and President Dan Dixon said. “We’re so proud of the communities that have supported us and our staff, the residents, the members and the clients that have come.
“We’re committed to being there for the next 50 years as a quality senior care provider. We look forward to the future.”
The faith-based nonprofit has provided health care, housing and supportive services to seniors and their families in the spirit of Christ’s love since 1965, Dixon said.
The organization’s hub is in Elk River with its 120-bed skilled nursing unit, and it has spokes out to other locations in Elk River, Zimmerman, Becker, Albertville and Coon Rapids with at least one more coming.
As part of its strategic planning, its board of directors prioritized its next three building projects, starting first with a crown jewel of a project it will propose on the Mississippi River in Otsego.
The city, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this past year but has yet to land senior housing, will welcome the proposal. The Otsego City Council has identified senior housing as a top economic development goal.
“It’s an amenity that the city currently doesn’t have and one that the council feels is important to provide,” Otsego City Administrator Lori Johnson said. “We understand the importance of being able to stay in your community as you age and, further, that it is important to younger residents to have senior housing close to their homes to relocate aging family.”
Otsego officials have had conversations with several senior housing developers in the past couple of years, Johnson said. Otsego has been on Dan Dixon’s radar ever since he arrived in Elk River 15 years ago.
“I had housing staff tell me, with the waiting list Guardian Angels Elk River has, if housing could be built in Otsego, we could fill it,” he said.
Dixon has found himself checking out farm fields here and there over the years in Otsego, but never really saw one that jumped out as a good fit.
When Ron Touchette, Guardian Angels’ real estate agent and volunteer for the organization showed them the Waterfront East space, Guardian Angels leadership embraced it immediately and got to work and closed on the property in recent weeks.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of land, made available through others’ misfortune, really,” Dixon said of the property that was foreclosed on after the economy soured. “Other people suffered because of it. It’s available and its a significant location for Guardian Angels.”
Dixon said his organizations hopes to create a great partnership with the city of Otsego, a big economic driver for the entire Waterfront development and get Guardian Angels established before any competition has a chance to gain a foothold on the area.
The hope is to build a facility in 2017. The idea sits will with Otsego Mayor Jessica Stockamp.
“I believe Guardian Angels has earned an excellent reputation in the area and we would be excited to welcome them to a new site in Otsego,” she said.
Waterfront East, although originally planned as a retail hub, is being considered for other uses.
“The market has changed significantly since Waterfront East was originally platted, and the city needs to respond to those market changes,” Johnson said. “The Planning Commission and City Council will determine through the application and review process if senior housing fits with the new vision for Waterfront East.”
She said it’s easy to see why Guardian Angels was attracted to the site, noting it’s a beautiful location along the river next to a city park. Plus, it has restaurants and retail in very close proximity, Johnson said.
“It appears to be a good fit for the location,” Johnson added.
Next on the strategic building plan for Guardian Angels would be an expansion of Engel Haus in Albertville. It has filled the 63-bed facility and has land it can expand on. Guardian Angels hopes to do that in 2019 or 2020.
And the third project would be to construct a four-story senior housing facility at the site of The Gym and Flowers Plus, which Guardian Angels recently purchased for $750,000 to help it complete its Elk River campus in the next five years or so.
Otsego project first on deck
Dixon and his board did not want to lose out on the opportunity to serve Otsego, and when presented the idea of the riverfront property, the organization got right to work.
Guardian Angels is now working on the feasibility of a 100- to 120-bed facility on the land it now owns to see what the logical breakdown of units would be for independent living, assisted living and memory care.
“We want to go four stories tall so we gain the views of the river as amenities for the seniors,” Dixon said.
The facility would have a main dining room serving meal options seven days a week along with all the other amenities other sites have, including transportation.
The project, like Guardian Angels’ projects in Albertville and in Coon Rapids with Autumn Glenn, would feature the latest remote monitoring technology. E-Neighbor technology helps staff monitor the seniors in their daily activities and helps detect health concerns before they are even known by the staff member or the senior.
It notices things like lack of motion, lack of movement, the number of times a refrigerator door opens, the medicine cabinet gets accessed and the number of times a resident gets in and out of bed.
“It can alert the caregiver to check the unit,” Dixon said. “No longer does the loved one end up on the bathroom floor with not being able to summon help or a nurse.
“The technology helps us maintain a higher quality of service and helps us to work smarter.”
The plan also calls for making use of the riverfront and to construct a foot bridge over the mile-long retaining pond that parallels the Mississippi River.
The long-range plan is to expand the facility 200 to 250 beds.
“The future is here,” Dixon said. “The baby boomers are coming. The expectations (are) for quality, less cost and for the latest technological advancements.”
The senior housing provider, which employs more than 600 and provides services for more than 3,000 people annually, is also looking at selling a portion of the 15-acre site it bought to a developer of luxury senior apartments.
Among the ideas that have been presented by a suitor are a fourth-story restaurant with views of the river and a pool as well as a food co-op and assorted retailers on the first floor to accompany the senior housing project.
Guardian Angels is working with Pope Architects on drawings of both facilities, which would be linked by a skyway of some type. Meanwhile, it is also vetting the possible purchaser of the land targeted for senior apartments.
Guardian Angels has begun talks with Otsego city officials about industrial revenue bonds that would be needed to be sold to finance the project.
Guardian Angels will be selecting a contractor and will go before the Otsego Council later this year to begin the process for gaining project approvals.
“A year from now in July, we would like to have the bonding completed and the footings going in before freeze-up,” Dixon said.
That would also bode well for the next two projects.
“There’s a rhythm and a momentum and a sense of urgency to the population explosion that we’re having,” Dixon said. “We feel like we can do a project every other year, and with our infrastructure and staffing we manage though it.”
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