Aging Matters: Gainesville’s youthful vibe beckons older adults

The Village residents walking on a trail next to the senior living community.
The Village residents walking on a trail next to the senior living community.
Courtesy of The Village

Many think of Gainesville as a place for a younger crowd given the tens of thousands of young adults who are students at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College.

That association makes sense, especially if you happen to be downtown or passing through midtown on a Friday or Saturday night and see the throngs of young people strolling down the street at either location.

Aging Matters logo

But that may be slowly changing. More and more older adults in their 50s, 60s and beyond are drawn to live in the Gainesville area—for an increasingly diverse range of reasons.

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

The trend reflects more than just retired faculty from UF or Santa Fe who opted to stay in the place they have called home for decades. They are being joined by their chronological peers from other Florida locations or other states.

Some are moving to retirement communities like Oak Hammock or The Village. Others are considering a move to Choreograph, a new 55+ rental community under development now in Celebration Pointe. Others are simply opting to set up shop in Alachua County and living on their own.

Jamie Menczer, 72, lived in Boston’s MetroWest area for 40 years, but came to Alachua County in 2016 after her husband died.

“If you are looking for a rational, thoughtful reasoned decision-making process you are not going to get one,” said Menczer, whose passion is horses. “I was lost and willing to walk through any door that opened to me.”

After selling her house, Menczer went to live with a widow friend in New England but then came to Gainesville and loved it.  

“Found a wonderful living arrangement where my horses are on the farm with me, and I can see them from my apartment,” she said. “And I never went back to Massachusetts.”

Seventy-four-year-old Ellen Siegel arrived here in June 2019 after living 44 years in Miami.

“Mainly I was a climate migrant very worried about what Miami would be like when I was in my 80s and 90s,” she said. “I chose Gainesville for its elevation, the access to world class healthcare and the chance to return to college for free. I audit courses in climate science and ecology to use what I learn in my volunteer occupation as climate literacy and advocacy communicator.”

The 180-unit Choreograph senior rental community is expected to open in August 2024 by Celebration Pointe.
Courtesy of Senior Discovery Living The 180-unit Choreograph senior rental community is expected to open in August 2024 by Celebration Pointe.

While U.S. Census Bureau data still show Alachua County is still primarily a young community, the data indicates county residents are aging.

“The county’s population aged 60 and over increased as a proportion of total population over time, from 15.2% in 2007–2011 to 18.3% in 2012–2016 and 20.1% in 2017–2021,” said Stefan Rayer, population program director at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Rayer emphasized, however, that age patterns are still “inconclusive,” pointing out that “Alachua County has a unique age and migration profile because of the presence of large numbers of college students. While the county’s population has been aging, the bulk of its population and that of the in-migrants is at younger ages.”

Gainesville and Alachua County are growing, and whatever may be happening locally is not occurring in a vacuum. Census Bureau data show Florida is now the fastest growing state in the United States for the first time since 1957, and there’s spillover locally.

Oak Hammock is a senior retirement community in Gainesville.
Courtesy of Oak Hammock Oak Hammock is a senior retirement community in Gainesville.

One of Alachua County’s top cheerleaders is Eric Godet, president and CEO of the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the things that seems to be a big attraction is that we have a great small town feel with great energy,” he said. “Retirees are looking to come to places where there is a lot to do. And we do have that tons of parks, great entertainment, restaurants, and shops.”

In his position at the chamber, Godet has a handle on what’s new and incoming, such as Choreograph, a first of its kind, 180-unit senior rental community that expects to be ready to go in August 2024.

Diana Ferrante Thies, senior vice president of marketing for Senior Discovery Living, Choreograph’s parent company, said the firm did a lot of research before selecting Gainesville as the kickoff location for their new brand.

Mayor Harvey Ward and the new City Commission will reach their 100th day in office on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward.

“It was a great partnership with Celebration Pointe and having property there that was highly visible in a perfect situation and having the university close by,” Ferrante Thies said. “Also, there is so much to offer just outside in your greater Gainesville area.

“We knew that we wanted to build Choreograph communities in desirable areas that would also be within mixed use developments so we can create a sense of community within our community itself, but also be within a bigger community that would allow people also to come to us,” she said.

Mayor Harvey Ward said that’s exactly the type of senior community Gainesville wants.

“We need to attract people who are downsizing,” he said. “We need to offer more condos and townhomes downtown. And I see some of that beginning to develop.”

In other words, Ward hopes for more housing options for retirees and other older people to be available in the future.

The Village executive director Rebecca Catalanotto said in this post-COVID era demand is growing for their offerings.

“Gainesville is a great place, a fun college town,” she said. “And we are a rich healthcare rich community. We have people who do move here just for the health care.”

Indeed, many older residents cite the health care options in Gainesville that include UF Health, HCA Florida and the largest veteran’s hospital in the southeast as reasons for coming here.

That was one of the appeals for Neill Hollenshead and his wife, Carol, who just moved to Oak Hammock, from the Tucson, Arizona area earlier this year.

Residents at The Village retirement community.
Courtesy of The Village Residents at The Village retirement community.

“We experienced loss of doctors and fragmented health care before,” he said. “We chose Oak Hammock primarily for its reputation as a good life plan community, connected closely with university.”

At Oak Hammock, Nickie Doria, director of sales and marketing also cited the medical facilities here as a primary draw, but not the sole one.

“So many people love following collegiate sports and the Florida Gators,” she wrote in an email. “And, of course, we all know that Gainesville is centrally located in the state, so it’s somewhat sheltered from tropical storms and hurricanes! That’s a big plus, especially for those who have lived oceanside for decades and are fatigued by storm preparation and destruction. 

Family is another reason older people move to the area. Marie Colon, a 75-year-old widow, moved to the Village from Shreveport, Louisiana, two months ago following her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren to Gainesville.

“Since I was trying to relocate, I no longer wanted to be that far from the children,” she said.

Mayor Ward, born and bred in Gainesville, welcomes young and old alike and said the area’s multigenerational mix is one of its biggest assets.

“We are likely to always have tens of thousands of university students. But that’s always part of what makes Gainesville good,” he said. “It is interesting to live in a place that feels young.

He said a multigenerational community is better for everyone.

“We all have things we can learn from different generations,” Ward said. “If we are experiencing a multigenerational community… that makes for an interesting place.”  

Editor’s note: This is the 12th story in Mainstreet’s Aging Matters series. It was independently reported by Ronnie Lovler and underwritten by Elder Options. Some reporting was made possible by Lovler’s acceptance as a fellow into the 2022 Age Boom Academy, a program of the Columbia Journalism School, the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, and the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.  

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Connie Morrison

Really enjoying this series! Thank you, Ronnie.

Joan H Carter

My husband and I, both interested in writing, decided to move to Gainesville in retirement in 2003 when we discovered the dynamic writers community here. We had looked for writers groups in other university cities. None came close to what has become the Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG)!

Susan Bottcher

Great article! It’s a little known fact that the city’s Police, Fire Rescue, Public Works, and Parks Departments are all nationally accredited. This isn’t an empty accolade. Each accreditation process means these departments need to demonstrate high standards of efficiency and delivery of quality services. As for our utility company, GRU was recently awarded the Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3)® designation from the American Public Power Association for providing reliable and safe electric service. The RP3 designation, which lasts for three years, recognizes public power utilities that demonstrate proficiency in four key disciplines: reliability, safety, workforce development, and system improvement. Criteria include sound business practices and a utility-wide commitment to safe and reliable delivery of electricity. All of the above does not happen by accident. It is thanks to many years of forward-thinking leadership in our local government.