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A community grows in West Des Moines


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Jim Ruff took a break from cutting the grass last week on the first 90-degree day in Plano, Texas, to talk about a change in climate when he moves later this year to West Des Moines.

“We like the cold and snow and change of seasons,” said Ruff, who at age 83 has chased his retirement dreams by following the migration of his children.

Jim and Priscilla “Percy” Ruff, 84, will make the move to be near their daughter, Sue Sherzan, her husband, Mike, and their children. Another daughter and more grandchildren live in the Twin Cities.

The Ruffs have paid $380,000 for a 1,500-square-foot independent living apartment at Edgewater, a Wesley Retirement Services Inc. retirement village that is nearing completion on a 44-acre parcel that overlooks the Raccoon River valley and the stalled Michael’s Landing development.

The first residents are expected to arrive in July, with completion of the $88 million project planned for September.

“They have everything,” Percy Ruff said about Edgewater, including a concierge who will be on call to arrange trips to the grocery store or any other destination she can imagine.

A diamond in the rough

For Rob Kretzinger, Wesley president and CEO, Edgewater is the untold success story in the ongoing saga of the collapse of Regency Homes and the eventual ownership by a handful of banks of the development named after the company’s co-founder, Michael Myers.

Wesley and Regency were to be partners in developing the retirement village.

The overall plan fit into a Regency marketing strategy that would promote Michael’s Landing as a place where grandparents, living at Edgewater, could live almost next door to their children and grandchildren, living in the houses and townhomes planned for the larger development.

Regency collapsed in April 2008, a victim of tightening credit markets and the overreaching development ambitions of Myers’ sons, James and Robert.

“They went away and we’re still here,” Kretzinger said.

Wesley has benefited from the streets and utilities Regency put in place, extending from the southern edge of Michael’s Landing at Booneville Road north to Mills Civic Parkway.

Vantus Bank and Bankers Trust Co. now own former Michael’s Landing property immediately to the north and south of Edgewater.

Regardless of ownership, it was the landscape, sloping eventually to the Raccoon River with hillsides folded into creek beds and shaded by stands of oak trees, that grabbed the attention of Edgewater’s planners.

Wesley purchased nearly 120 acres along Booneville Road in 2000 from a trust established by the late David Kruidenier. That land featured 300-year-old bur oaks and bucolic scenery that seemed to speak to Wesley’s history in Greater Des Moines.

The nonprofit organization’s first project was Wesley Acres. When it was developed in 1947 at 35th Street and Grand Avenue in Des Moines, it stood at the western edge of the city’s development. The property also features a stand of bur oaks.

“We felt fortunate that we were able to buy their land,” he said.

In 2004, Regency compiled adjacent land that resulted in the 340-acre Michael’s Landing development, including parcels along Mills Civic Parkway.

Wesley decided that the Edgewater project would be better placed nearer to a major street. The two companies arranged a land exchange in 2007 and entered into an agreement in which Regency would serve as project manager for the retirement community, with Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. of Minneapolis as the general contractor.

A trace of Regency remains at Edgewater. Edge Commercial, formed by the former president of Regency Commercial Services, is completing the remainder of the company’s obligations on the project. Other than that connection, Edgewater has no lingering links to Regency, Kretzinger said.

Construction zone

To reach Edgewater, head west on Mills Civic Parkway beyond the sprawling Wells Fargo & Co. campus and the iron skeleton of what will be Aviva USA’s home port, make a half loop around the pioneer-era Huston Family Cemetery, then take a left at 91st Street.

You will drive into a buzz of construction activity that has been under way since December 2007, when Wesley broke ground for Edgewater, developing first an underground parking garage that is topped today by a three-story structure featuring simple, Prairie-style architecture with lean lines and a variety of hues and textures created by brick and stone and faux wood siding.

Between 100 and 200 construction workers have been on the site since the first spade was turned on the project.

They are creating what Wesley has dubbed an active lifestyle community.

At first blush, it appears to be an upscale vacation retreat. The first touches of landscaping were to build ponds flanking the entrance to the main building, where a waterfall is under construction and a ground-to-ceiling arched window reveals the bucolic landscape. There will be hiking and biking trails.

When it opens, Edgewater will have a pub and bistro, fitness and aquatic centers, a market and restaurant-style dining, including a private dining area. It also will have a performing arts center, a library, an art studio and a chapel.

The independent living apartments range from roughly 700 to 1,700 square feet. All have a spacious feel. They are trimmed out in hardwoods; mahogany was noticeable in several.

The assisted-living quarters are broken into four, 10-bedroom areas with common nursing stations and a common dining room that will operate at hours preferred by the residents.

In all, Edgewater features an approach to design and living that Jim and Percy Ruff find appealing.

“They really thought this out,” Jim Ruff said. He noted that the developers were open to suggestions from future residents.

“A lot of people don’t do that; they say, ‘This our plan and that’s it,'” he said.

The Ruffs have investigated similar retirement communities in Texas and elsewhere in the country, and they found Edgewater to place in the upper echelon.

“They’ve really done their homework, and it shows,” Jim Ruff said.

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