The Jewish Association on Aging announced on Oct. 10 plans to redevelop part of its property on Browns Hill Road in Squirrel Hill in a new partnership with Continental Real Estate Co.
The site currently hosts AHAVA Memory Center, The Residence at Weinberg Village, and, in separate buildings, The New Riverview. The Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center was also housed on the property before closing in 2021.
Earlier today the agency told residents and their families that, as part of the redevelopment plans, Weinberg Village will close.
JAA Board Chair Lou Plung said that some job losses will accompany the shutdown, although the number of employees affected by the closure wasn’t available at press time.
The JAA will help its Weinberg Village residents find other housing options.
“During this period of replacement of Weinberg Village, we’re going to seek to have those residents in appropriate facilities, either ours, where we have space, or others, at their discretion,” Plung said.
The project is estimated to take three-and-a-half years to complete, at which time those former Weinberg Village residents will be offered the opportunity to move into the new facility.
“It is a temporary displacement,” Plung said.
Plung is excited about the future of the campus but understands how disruptive the transition will be.
“I’m going to be honest: It’s painful,” he said. “It’s painful for our professionals that are working there. It’s painful for the residents, for the families. I feel it. I know a lot of those residents and I feel bad, and yet we also know that if we don’t do something the building is going to deteriorate and we cannot continue to provide good services.”
AHAVA Memory Center and The New Riverview will both remain open during the redevelopment process. Weinberg Terrace, located on Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill, will continue to operate as usual.
The goal of the redevelopment, Plung said, is to create an “urban senior village” on the site.
“It’s a unique partnership and a unique way of redeveloping this, such that we will get state-of-the-art facilities that will be dedicated to seniors exclusively,” he said.
The redevelopment is a continuation of a process that began when the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center closed. At that time, Plung said, the JAA board of directors committed to looking at new models to provide care for seniors.
“We searched wide and far,” Plung said. “We talked to potential partners all over the country. We talked to people in California, in Iowa, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, multiple people in the local area and throughout Pennsylvania.”
The board eventually settled on partnering with Continental Real Estate, a nationwide developer and builder of commercial real estate projects based in Ohio that has a large portfolio in Pittsburgh, including developments at The Waterfront, The North Shore and the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon, as well as senior communities in three states including Apple Blossom in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. It hopes to sign a contract with the developer within the next 90 days.
Plung said that the JAA board had several goals in mind for the property when it was talking to prospective partners: The new concept had to retain its Jewish values; it had to retain an exclusive use for seniors; it had to show long-term sustainability; and the Pittsburgh Jewish community in Pittsburgh had to have a say in what goes on at the site.
Weinberg Village, he explained, has 37 residents, half the capacity of a building that was becoming outdated and would have required a large investment to bring up to date and make attractive to potential residents. AHAVA houses approximately 30 residents. The campus has the capacity for up to 200 residents.
The age of Weinberg Village has become a detriment to attracting new residents, Plung said, noting that if seniors can’t find a unit at Weinberg Terrace on Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill, they’ll often bypass the Browns Hill Road campus in favor of a different residence not part of the JAA.
The notion of an urban village, Plung said, is a new model with innovative ideas that will help make the site more attractive. “We’re talking about creating a community,” he said. “We think it’s going to be very special and very unique.”
And while the concept has yet to be too tightly defined, Plung said, more amenities and transportation opportunities will exist than what is currently available to the small Weinberg Village community.
The redevelopment plan is still in its conceptual stages, so many questions remain unanswered including if units will be dedicated to independent living in addition to assisted living, or if there will be affordable housing options beyond those available at The New Riverview.
Working with an outside developer is creating opportunities, though, Plung said.
“The possibilities are exciting,” he said. “And what we think we can offer the Jewish community, that the trustees of this project 30 years from now will look and say ‘this worked really well, how can we enhance it?’ The challenge for our board is that we realize the utility of what’s here doesn’t work anymore. Serving 67 people on all this land in a very limited use is not the best and highest use for Jewish seniors in this community. How do we improve upon that?”
Funding has not been finalized for the project. Plung said a plan is being developed.
“We realize there’s limited resources,” he said. “We’re trying to ascertain to what extent the community can invest, and to what extent we need to look at outside resources.”
“We are excited to be in discussions with the JAA about the opportunity to create a new senior village,” said Frank Kass, founder and CEO of Continental Real Estate Companies. “For decades, we’ve been dedicated to the development of distinctive spaces in Pittsburgh, which include the North Shore and The Waterfront in Homestead. We have established an ongoing relationship with JAA and have a strong vision for the potential reinvention of this unique space, which will preserve the legacy JAA provides in this community.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein said the Federation enthusiastically supports the JAA’s plans to reimagine and reinvigorate the Browns Hill Road campus.
“The hallmark of the Federation and our beneficiary agencies, including JAA, has been to make lasting and sustainable impact,” Finkelstein said. “That’s what this vision that JAA is presenting represents. It complements the substantial work that the Federation’s Older Adults Task Force has been doing to understand the future of care for older adults and their caregivers in Jewish Pittsburgh. The purpose and result of both efforts is to bring innovative solutions to serving our community of older adults and expanding the service offerings we can provide.
“Our community will benefit from this work — by both Federation and JAA — for decades to come,” he added. “We are very excited for the future of care for older adults here.”
Plung, too, is looking forward to the future.
“We’re really excited,” he said. “It’s going to be something to serve our seniors for the next generation or more. It does call for some transition issues in terms of job losses and the movement of our residents, but it’s a great thing.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.