Before Young Kim and her husband, Kee, decided to retire to South Sound after 32 years of living in New York and New Jersey, they considered moving to Colorado, Arizona or Florida.
But after finding out that their sons had accepted jobs in Seattle, the Kims picked Hawks Prairie in Lacey and the Jubilee adult community.
"Everything was so green," Young Kim, 59, recalled about her first visit to South Sound in January 2005. "We thought we had come to a different world."
Couples such as the Kims are helping to put Thurston County on the map as a growing retirement destination. According to projections by the Thurston Regional Planning Council,
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21 percent of the county's population, or 71,758 people, will be at least 65 years old by 2025.
Developers of senior housing have taken note and are planning or building new projects in each of the county's three largest cities.
Manor Care of Meadow Park, a 57,000-square-foot nursing home with 120 beds in the Lacey Corporate Center at 4524 Intelco Loop. This project has yet to receive a building permit.
Mountain West Senior Housing LLC, a 272,000-square-foot senior-housing project that would include assisted living and a memory-care facility in the Lacey Corporate Center at 4528 Intelco Loop. The development still is under review.
Colonial Estates, a proposed senior-living development with 112 lots for manufactured homes, 54 apartments and 87 assisted-living units at 3711 14th Ave. S.E., Olympia.
Peppin/Unger LLC, a proposed development in Tumwater with 62 senior-housing units.
Capital Heights retirement village, a proposed development with 341 senior-living units in the 3300 block of Capital Mall Drive in Olympia.
Gene Johnson, an early developer of the Capital Heights project, identified a need for more senior housing in Olympia in 1999. The market for independent-living units was underserved, he said.
Johnson since has stepped away from the development and sold the 19-acre parcel to Avamere Health Systems of Wilsonville, Ore. The project, which Johnson estimates might cost $65 million to $75 million, could begin this summer.
Meanwhile, Jubilee, which caters to people 55 and older, continues to add residents from all over the country, Jubilee spokeswoman Christine Bachman said. To date, 546 homes have been sold, with 480 of them occupied by their new owners, 22 percent of whom have moved here from out of state, she said.
At full build-out, which is expected in 2010, Jubilee will have 1,170 single-family, ranch-style homes, she said.
Jubilee residents have cited a number of factors for choosing to retire in Hawks Prairie.
JoAnn "Jody" Mesojednik, 68, and her husband, Dave, both longtime Olympia residents, like the quality of the health care in the area and the sense of security and community at Jubilee.
JoAnn Mesojednik also is "Queen Mum" of the Jubilee Royale Ladybugs, a social gathering of women who meet at Jubilee to "forget about troubles and have fun," while wearing red hats, she said.
Marlyn Stark and his wife, Mary Ellin, moved to Jubliee after living in Edmonds for 40 years. Besides recreation in the form of two golf courses, affordability and a lower cost of living brought the Starks to South Sound.
In 1965, the Starks paid $22,000 for their home in Edmonds. Forty years later, they sold it for $325,000, Marlyn Stark said.
At first, the couple, both of whom are in their 70s, looked at living in Redmond or Bellevue, but they realized they could save up to $125,000 by buying a home at Jubilee.
The Starks also preferred this area to retirement destinations such as Palm Springs, Calif.
"To live there year-round was never appealing," Marlyn Stark said. "It's nice to go sit in the sun, but after two months, it's not much fun."
The cost of living also is higher in Palm Springs than here, Stark added.
For the third quarter of 2006, housing costs were 5.7 percent less in the Olympia metropolitan area than the cost-of-living average in 300 other cities nationwide, according to the Thurston Regional Planning Council. Also, utility costs were 12.7 percent lower in the Olympia metro area, the data show.
Other factors that make South Sound attractive include a mild climate and its proximity to larger cities such as Seattle, said Panorama of Lacey marketing director Howard Burton. Panorama of Lacey, formerly known as Panorama City, is a long-established community of continuing care for seniors that opened in 1963.
Today it has more than 860 homes, ranging from studio apartments to single-family dwellings, and more than 1,200 residents, he said. The average age of the residents is 83, and Panorama has a waiting list of about 100 people, Burton said.
AARP spokesman Jason Erskine added that while Olympia doesn't outrank Bellingham and Walla Walla as retirement hot spots, it does offer some important attributes for seniors, such as South Sound's regional colleges.
"Retirement is not what it used to be," Erskine said. "It used to be a life of leisure, but now they are looking for continuing education."
Rolf Boone covers business for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5403 or email@example.com.