Development of retirement communities in Florida slowed significantly in the wake of the economic downturn, but Iggy Ignatius proves that opportunity still abounds. A developer, Iggy saw a gap in the market when considering his own retirement options and decided to do something about it. After a 20-year career in information technology, Iggy moved from Michigan to Florida, establishing ShantiNiketan, a multicultural retirement community in Tavares, Fla., where residents speak Gujarati and Hindi as freely as they do English. The concept combines the security and unity of a gated retirement community with amenities, activities and services for Indian retirees.
Retirees come to Tavares, Fla., for the same reason Walt Disney chose to build a second theme park in the greater Orlando area: the glorious, sunny and relatively temperate weather. ShantiNiketan sits on just over 10 acres of land in the appropriately named Lake County, located between Lake Eustis, Lake Harris and Lake Dora. The stretch of the property borders Lake Elsie, where some waterfront units are planned. The location is especially suited for a retirement community as it sits within a three-mile radius of various retail centers, a Walmart, a Target, a K-Mart and Florida Hospital Waterman.
“This community is really more of a multicultural retirement resort,” expands Tom Pfeiffer, vice president of construction for IGGI Builders LLC (IGGI). IGGI is the construction company managing ShantiNiketan’s development, which was formed by Iggy’s son, Jeffrey.
Jeffrey formed IGGI to oversee the development and construction of the ShantiNiketan communities. The IGGI crew selected and purchased a site in February 2008 and spent one year finalizing details on the development before breaking ground in 2009.
Where Everything is Included
Visitors drive through the gates and up the driveway of ShantiNiketan to a cul-de-sac outside of the semicircular Welcome Center. The Welcome Center serves as a home base for the community’s management and administration, but visitors can utilize the space’s social areas, multimedia rooms and Internet stations, as well as a 24-hour coffee and tea bar.
“The reason this development really works is because everyone involved, from the owners down to the developers, are very hands on all the time,” adds Pfeiffer. “The owners actually live on premises, as do the managers.”
Behind the Welcome Center sits a central courtyard designed along the lines of a traditional Indian aangan, with fully grown trees transplanted to provide a bit of shade. The courtyard leads to the Club House, which seats 120-diners and includes both vegetarian and nonvegetarian kitchens serving up traditional Indian fare. The Club House dining room doubles as a movie theater for nightly screenings, and the facility also includes a prayer room and temple, a health services space, a computer room, meeting rooms and a fitness center. The property also sits adjacent to the Golden Triangle YMCA that also offers a state-of-the-art wellness center loaded with amenities and recreational programming spaces.
The central courtyard, Welcome Center and Club House form an axis off of which lie the six total wings of condominium units. The first phase added the two innermost wings on either side of the Welcome Center and then added the four outer wings for a total of 54 units. The second phase will add another 120 units when completed. The units sprawl across roughly 1,000 to 1,500 square feet each and are designed with either two-bedroom or three-bedroom options, making the units ideal for entertaining visitors.
Of course, ShantiNiketan’s developers were pressured in the wake of the economic downturn to ensure the units could compete with rock-bottom real estate prices and the extensive inventory of foreclosure properties in the area. IGGI and Pfeiffer opted to attack the problem by both building value and managing overhead and expenses tightly to keep prices competitive.
“Every unit includes its own kitchen, but residents can also choose to eat all three meals a day from the Club House kitchen; residents don’t have to worry about cooking if they don’t want to,” adds Pfeiffer. The dining plan is in addition to the condo fees paid by residents, with nonvegetarian meals ringing up slightly higher than vegetarian meal plans.
Furthermore, IGGI financed the development with its own capital and set up ShantiNiketan as a not-for-profit organization. IGGI took on a hefty amount of the material purchasing to control overhead costs and enlisted the help of some of its most trusted and reliable subcontracting partners to ensure the development progressed smoothly and expediently, without sacrificing IGGI’s high standards for quality. “The entire project is financed internally and upfront, so basically every unit we build we own,” adds Pfeiffer.
The issue of a competitive price point became clear very early on to the Ignatius family. When Iggy himself considered retiring, he and his friends weighed the possibility of retiring in their native India. However, the group ultimately decided that the cost advantages of living in India weren’t necessarily the right choice considering the easy access one would have to high-quality medical care in the U.S., as well as the proximity to both children and grandchildren.
Greater Flexibility, More Options than Ever
Instead, Iggy decided to develop ShantiNiketan and position the units for both sale and for rent, giving residents more options than ever to finance for retirement. One-year leases cost $1,000 monthly per resident and short-term rentals are available at the cost of $3,000 monthly.
Furthermore, owners benefit from the fact that the village of Tavares, Fla., lies within an active adult community. Residents and taxpayers in the area have no access to public schools, but the tradeoff comes in the form of comparatively lower property taxes. Residents can choose to pay for the units in full and upfront or they can choose to take advantage of ShantiNiketan’s signature money-back plan, where residents pay for the unit upfront in the form of a deposit. Under the money-back plan residents do not own the property or receive the title to it they simply live in the unit for as long as they please, paying the associated condo fees. ShantiNiketan simply returns the deposit to the resident should the resident opt to move out of the unit.
From the first phase of development ShantiNiketan bucked market trend and the first 54 units sold out during some of the worst years in recent real estate history. “The next phase will add anywhere from 40 to 200 acres, that will give us the space to make ShantiNiketan a truly multicultural retirement resort with several communities geared towards certain cultures,” expands Pfeiffer.
These phases will be split up to allow for development to continue with the same financial strength as the first two phases, but Pfeiffer estimates it could keep IGGI busy for the next 10 to 15 years. Whatever the next phase looks like for IGGI Builders LLC, the success of ShantiNiketan proves the American dream is alive and well.
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