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Cornelius News

Older is better in Cornelius


When Scott Higgins, 67, retired in Cornelius nine months ago, he had no idea he would soon be a member of the Cornelius PARC Commission. Not that he’s interested in politics, but the PARC board is a storied path to political greatness: Both US Sen. Thom Tillis and NC Sen. Jeff Tarte started out on the PARC board.

“When I retired, you know, you have to reinvent yourself,” Higgins said. “So I had three prongs: I would somehow be engaged in the community I live in; get myself back in good physical shape, that’s why I bike; and, three, I wanted to be near my daughter and granddaughter in Concord. I mean what else are you going to do with your life?”

As president of the Southern Conference, he knew Davidson well, and the Antiquity neighborhood on the other side of the covered bridge had just the right feel.

“I dont know a stranger. I’ve always been involved in professional organizations since high school,” he said.

Welcome to Cornelius, which is getting grayer by the minute. U.S. Census data shows that Cornelius’ over-65 population grew 132 percent between 2000 and 2010. According to the Census Bureau, 8.38 percent of Cornelius’ population was 65 and older in 2000. Ten years later, 10.11 percent—of 24,800 people—were over 65. The 2000 population was only 12,932.

Baby boomers are aging in place here in Cornelius, and moving here by the droves. Witness new active adult communities like Baileys Glen and Epcon, and, of course, Autumn Care nursing and assisted living has opened on the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church campus on the east side of town. Aging in place is doable in Cornelius.

Higgins believes the local population is growing due to modern lifestyle preferences, and people wanting to be engaged in their communities.

“Everybody wants to be here. They’ve made a choice,” Higgins said.

The Antiquity neighborhood—the name is just an accident, there are young families and singles in abundance—offers options for outdoor activities such as walking, running and biking. Higgins likes nearby town activities such as festivals, concerts and even a community garden. New retirees are coming from professional positions and are forward-thinking, well informed, engaged citizens, he said.

Meanwhile, political sages are watching the growth of an engaged population on the east side of town. (Town Board member Bruce Trimbur, 59, also lives in Antiquity.) Political consultant Larry Shaheen has been hired by Mayor Chuck Travis for his reelection campaign.

In presidential election years, the average age of voters moves into the 40s but for most other primaries and municipalities the average voter is in their 50s and above, suggesting that older people control local elections. Bailey’s Glen has 372 homes and 96 condos, according to its website, which advises: “The secret to staying young…an active, healthy lifestyle.”

The whole idea of retirement has changed dramatically, especially over the last dozen or so years, says Cornelius-based financial planner Joshua Dobi. “Cornelius has become a place where, in my observation, older active adults and their adult children are choosing to live,” he said.

Retirement is different than it was 20, 30 and 40 years ago. “Back then there was a very real sense that people might have been worn out from their career, exhausted. They were in fact,” Dobi said.

Not any more. The preferred senior lifestyle is active and engaged. For people like Higgins, greenways and options around cycling are critical. Golf is very 1990s, according to urban planners who follow demographics and lifestyle choices.

Lynette Rinker, former Mayor of Cornelius, said baby boomers are looking for smaller, yet high-quality housing. Because retirees tend to be wealthier, businesses that cater to the senior adult lifestyle should find success.

There’s a payoff on the transportation side: Retirees do not commute so they don’t contribute to rush hour traffic. Then, too, they’re not likely to have kids in public schools.

The town’s parks, arts, recreation and culture department is adjusting. “PARC has been ensuring that programs include more active adult-oriented offerings,” Rinker said.

“A growing 55-plus population just adds to the richness of our community,” she said.

Stephanie Gossett, area manager for Allen Tate Realtors in Lake Norman, said that while many retirees are following their kids here, this area is a destination location.

Baby boomers are used to being the largest cohort in the marketplace.

“Folks are moving here because they can move anywhere but they are choosing here,” Gossett said. “Lifestyle is a big buzzword with today’s buyer.”

As the Lake Norman area grows up, healthcare is preparing for an increase too.

According to Christine Brown, regional vice president of development at Hospice and Palliative Care Center, North Carolina will exceed the national average of population over the age of 65 by 2050 by 4 percent.

Roberta Farnum, owner of Home Instead Senior Care, is hiring 35 new caregivers.

“Seniors want to be as active as they can for as long as they can. They are changing the face of aging,” Farnum said. “Seniors are doing remarkable things at later ages.”

The influx of retirees to the area has increased her business, she said, and she sees communities becoming more senior friendly.

“People want to stay and be active in communities they are living in. They want to age in place,” Farnum said.

“The options for lifestyle is conducive for people to move here. This area is right for senior growth and development.”

— Rachel Daniels