A Flurry of Fun - Ashland is Base Camp - Winter '24 Issue

Friday, October 22, 2021

Southern Oregon’s community on a hill


Brian McLemore

Rogue Valley Manor

Southern Oregon’s community on a hill

Interview by Steve Boyarsky

Photography provided by Jerry Hagstrom


Q: What is the history of the Rogue Valley Manor? Who anticipated that retirement living in Rogue Valley would be a significant component of the region?
The Manor was incorporated in 1955, even before Interstate 5. The main original tower opened in 1961. Paul Harvey (national radio personality) came for the grand opening, and he did a wonderful talk about the whole Rogue Valley. It was his first trip here and was amazed by the beauty and the pear orchards. The Manor was started by three local churches. The United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches determined that, "We don't have a place for people to retire in the valley who need care and services into the future." A lot of churches had started retirement communities, but these are big businesses with employment and legal issues that are hard for churches to run.

The Manor start buying land, building cottages and other amenities that were attractive to people from outside the valley. That really unleashed the potential of the Manor. In the mid 80s, the first cottages were built. The cottages attracted people from all over the country. The Manor is such a unique campus, 215 acres on top of a hill overlooking the valley with cottages and every amenity you could think of. We have great healthcare programs, and we just built a new memory care center. The Manor has an indoor pool and fitness center and all kinds of recreational and social opportunities.

Q: Hasn’t the Manor also developed affordable housing for seniors?

Brian: I joined the company in 1986, to develop our first low-income housing. The Manor has developed 25 affordable housing communities, 1,100 units, most of them here in Southern Oregon. They're all developed and financed through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They're subsidized, most of the residents pay less than $200 a month for a one-bedroom apartment of about 510 square feet. Health care and dining don’t come with it, but it's a great place to live. These housing communities are well kept and maintained.

Q: When did Pacific Retirement Services develop?

Brian: Pacific Retirement Services (PRS) was formed in 1991, out of the Manor. A lot of people who came to see the Manor said, "Well, we love this concept, but we want to stay near our home.” So, we grew over the years from Rogue Valley Manor into ownership of 11 retirement communities like the Manor. We also developed a management company, to manage retirement communities for other not-for-profits. PRS manages two retirement communities in California for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. They built a campus in Saratoga, right in the heart of Silicon Valley in 1912. About 20 years ago, PRS redeveloped their whole campus for $123 million. We just finished a $90-million redevelopment of another campus for them in Napa. A tiny seed three churches planted here grew into the Rogue Valley Manor and now to this whole system of retirement care. A little company in Medford grew to $1.5 billion in assets. Amazing!

Q: How have the desires of retired people changed?
It's changed a lot. People want more choice. Years ago, retirement was seen as “going to the home”. Now, people want the social experience of living with people who have similar interests. But people also want the security if anything happens, to be taken care of for the rest of their lives. They don't want to burden their family to decide, "Okay, we've got to separate mom and dad. Mom has to go over here and dad needs these services." The beauty of the Manor concept is, you're taken care of for the rest of your life. We have the amenities and services to take care of you as your needs change. People are living longer, and we're attracted younger, more active people at the cottages. The average entry age is now in the mid 70s. It's really like having a house in a gated community where you have security and amenities such as recreation, health care, and three or four restaurant choices. Retirement living has changed dramatically.

Q: What’s the planned housing development surrounding Centennial Golf Course?

Brian: We bought the land when it was a pear orchard and are turning it into a golf community. The land has recently been annexed into the city. We're in a process of putting the full development plan of that project together. It has the potential to create something that doesn't exist in Medford. People can buy a condo or a home on the golf course and maybe live somewhere else part of the year. They can lock the door, walk out and everything's taken care of.

We've also been working with the city to create an apartment development. Centennial is close to Asante and other big employers in addition to the Manor. There’s an opportunity to create workforce housing. They could walk instead of clogging up traffic on Barnett. We're also working with Oregon Department of Transportation for another I-5 interchange. Medford is a big town to have only two freeway interchanges. We support adding an interchange at South Stage. That’ll take some of the burden of traffic off Barnett and allow for commercial development. We've designed space for a hotel with some convention amenities, where people could come and play golf and participate in a corporate retreat. We see the Centennial development as a mix of commercial, residential, hotel, and golf amenities.

Q: What's made Southern Oregon an attractive place to retire?
 This area is a gem that people fall in love with. Over the years at the Manor, we've been able to attract people from all the country. At one time we had over 100 residents from Hawaii. It's a combination of an accessible airport, great healthcare, a small-town feel, but also with great cultural events. We've got the Craterian Theater, the Britt Music Festival, and Shakespeare in Ashland. Everything is within easy access: hiking, fishing, golf, healthcare, and transportation.

Q: What are the challenges that younger people face?

Brian: Southern Oregon is a great place to raise a family. I just wish there was some more industry here that supported a workforce. The challenge our kids face graduating from college is, “What do I do professionally in Medford?” We've done a really good job marketing to retirees, but we need more jobs so younger people can afford to live here. If you look at housing prices compared to salaries, it just doesn't compute. Houses are being purchased by people who are retiring here, and not by young families who want to stay here to create a career path. I wish we had a better solution for young people. My son graduated from University of Oregon and moved to Phoenix, Arizona for a year and a half. When I retired and told him I was going to start a consulting business, he's like, "Oh man, I'll come back to Oregon. I love fishing the Rogue, but just didn't think a career was possible here."

Q: How does smoke and scarcity of water impact the livability of Southern Oregon?
I absolutely think water and smoke are two big issues that have to be dealt with. People looking at Southern Oregon on a smoky day start asking, “Does this happen every year?” I spent six years from high school to college working for Oregon State Forestry here in Southern Oregon fighting fires. A big fire for us was 100 acres. The good news is there's has been a wake-up call, fire crews seem to be more aggressive on getting on the fires. People understand that smoke is a significant health impact, but smoke also has a severe economic impact.

Q: You grew up in Grants Pass. What was Southern Oregon like growing up?
Grants Pass was about 12,000 people when we first moved there. Some of my best friends now are friends from high school. We all get together, play golf, or go fishing. Southern Oregon has been home for my whole life. I got to help grow PRS over the years and traveled a lot. I always came back and saying, "Man, I'm really glad I live here." We built retirement communities all over California—Sacramento, San Francisco, LA and worked on projects in Texas and Arizona. I love coming home.

Q: How did you get involved in retirement services and specifically with PRS?
Really it was an accident. Human resources was a focus in college. There was a human resources job at Rogue Valley Manor, which was creating the human resources department. They said, "Well, you have zero experience in human resources. This job doesn’t fit, but we like what you're saying." I was student body vice-president at SOU, so, I was very involved. They said, "We like what you’ve done at SOU. We're starting this affordable housing division and perhaps you could help us with that?" I started developing affordable housing communities, which was a great way to learn to get a project zoned and built. The first project we did was a million dollars and we thought that was huge! The last project before I retired, we finished in Arizona for about $279 million. I was blessed to have those experiences and to be able to roll that knowledge to the next and the next project.

Q: Tell me about PRS consolidating their corporate office to downtown Medford.

Brian: I took over as CEO in 2010, and at that time, our corporate team was scattered all over. We had some folks in the main old Manor building. Some people were down on Ellendale Avenue. If we’re going to work together everyone needed to be in the same location no matter if you're working in affordable housing or accounting or IT. We outgrew the offices at the Manor. It came down to building a bigger office on Ellendale or building something downtown. We had a staff of 100 that we needed offices for.

We brought our team members from all over the country into downtown Medford, so we could be in a space where everybody could really talk. We built a giant conference area in the middle of our office. We were hoping that a couple of sparks, like One West Main and Lithia headquarters would really transform downtown. Unfortunately, I don't think that's quite worked out. I think downtown Medford still has possibilities, hopefully, that will happen over time. The homeless problem has become significant. If Medford wants to continue to attract businesses downtown, that issue needs to be addressed.

Q: You've recently retired and what are you involved in now?
I retired in January (2021) and started a senior living consulting business. I'm finishing up some projects, including planning for the Centennial project for PRS. My son came on and he's working with me. We picked up a client in Southern California and we’re planning three retirement communities for them. We’ve got four projects up in Portland. So, a little busier than we want it to be, but it’s fun being able to work with my son. When I left PRS we had almost 5,000 residents and 3,000 staff. The CEO role had become a 24/7 job. I'm enjoying focusing on what I do best, which is project development.

I’m still involved in determining how to take better care of people. The old days of putting seniors in a nursing home is over. How can we take care of people who need long-term care? And how do we design and staff that? What I tried over my career at PRS was to create cutting edge communities that stand the test of time. When you're investing a couple hundred million dollars in a new retirement community, it needs to be something that's relevant for 30 or 40 years, not four or five. Getting ahead of that curve and being innovative, that's the fun part.

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