This is an article I wrote for our monthly magazine, "The Villager."
Note: much of the information in this document was gleaned from issues of The Villager.
Up From Nothing
In the beginning was the word, and the word was PLAN, and the plan was put forward to build a retirement facility in the northeast valley, and the plan was initiated by a small group of Presbyterians from Valley Presbyterian Church. That was in 1981.
Dick and Helen Chapman watched good friends move into a retirement facility, in which the nursing section was a few blocks away. Noting the inconvenience, they began talking about the need for a combined facility with friends John Finch and George Butler. Once the need was verified by the people at the Senior Center, George gave the group 20 acres of land in Tucson. With Deed in hand, they established a rudimentary organization, got an attorney, a C.P.A. and a bank to approve any needed loans. Subsequent meetings at the church convinced the group that there would be no lack of people wanting to move in.
January 25, 1982 was the first recorded meeting of the Board of Directors of Westminster Village Inc., a Not For Profit corporation chartered by the State of Arizona. Board members were Mel Bowman, Dick Chapman, John Finch, Walter Goelkel, Wilson Kilgore, Maude Ligon, Arthur Nelson and Gordon Nielson. The Advisory Board members were George Butler, Bill Cotton and Hamilton McCrae III; Harry Weyrich was President. Retirement Centers of America was engaged to guide them through startup activities. All they had to do was find nearby land and complete a forty million dollar project.
They found a suitable site at the corner of Cactus and Pima Roads, so they canvassed the neighbors to propose their enterprise. An emphatic “no thanks” greeted them, so an alternate property was found on a corner of Pima Road and Shea Boulevard. Zoning needed to change, but a year and a half after applications were submitted, they were rejected. Then, toward the end of 1984, the atmosphere at Cactus/Pima changed and the group were able, by January 1985, to obtain 17 acres. It had taken three years, and they were ready to move forward.
“The land was found; hopes were high but the pockets were low. At this point the members of the board and friends had either made gifts or made loans to pay the necessary expenses as they went along and a small income eventually came in from the sale of George Butler's land gift which helped a great deal but organizations such as RCAI, Arthur Anderson, the law firm, and the architects were all 'on the cuff.' If the thing flew they would get paid. If it flopped they wouldn't.. The enthusiasm and faith of our small band had become contagious. A most fortunate arrangement was made with Sam Kitchell. He would buy the land and hold it for W. V. If W. V. could come up with the price he paid, plus the cost of holding it, the contract for the building would go to Kitchell Contractors. When the land became available it had seemed fairly simple to raise the money. Just copy others such as Royal Oaks in Sun City. Get an underwriter and sell bonds. To do this you must first sell half the units, so the group opened the Hayden Rd. office with its model apartments and went into high gear. In early Dec. 1985, 35 units were sold. Just over a year later 48% were sold and Morgan Stanley agreed to market the bonds. Months of work go into preparing the hundreds of pages needed to present a bond offering. By March of 1987 things looked pretty good. Morgan Stanley sent their David Blair to Scottsdale to talk to the eager prospective retirees. In April came the groundbreaking ceremony. Then suddenly interest rates were up and Morgan Stanley almost pulled out because the bonds would not sell at an affordable interest. In June came a bit of hope. Parkside, a Lutheran group, joined the endeavor and brought 5 million dollars to the rescue. On July 15th 1987 the bonds were finally handed over to nine purchasers and at 11.00 A. M. the directors of W. V. wrote checks to pay off the debts they had incurred. Seven million dollars worth. Building started the very next day.” From Vol. 1, #4 of The Villager, August 1989.
“You might think the people behind W. V. would be exhausted by the time building started but their work was not over. The place had to be finished furnished and filled. A project so big was understandably fraught with frustrations as for instance when the road caved in on Nov. 1st 1987 over the improperly constructed city sewer line, causing a year of litigation. However light was showing at the tunnel's end, and residents would soon be needed. The first deposit check was dated May 1st 1985 and by the end of the month 14 units were spoken for. Early signers became known as the 'PIONEERS.' Their names were put on a plaque and a cut off date was set to encourage others to get in while they still could have the honor of belonging to the 'CLUB.' Eventually there were 82 pioneers but by the time the building was close to ready the numbers were lower. Some had died, some had changed their minds and some were scared off when the financing had seemed iffy. Of the remaining pioneers there are 35 living here now and 7 or 8 are expected soon. Just as the bond market had brought a temporary disaster to the financing dept. so the housing market has brought one to the sales dept. At one time the place was 82% sold. Today the percentage is down to the high 70's, but sales are steady and when we think of how much has been accomplished by faith up to this point it becomes easy to believe that we will soon be full.” From Vol. 1, #5 of The Villager, September 1989.