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SAN FRANCISCO-Several former development executives of Sunrise Senior Living Inc. this week launched Davos Development Senior Living Group LLC. Just as Sunrise Senior Living did before it shut down its development division last fall amid the recession, Davos will pursue senior living development and re-positioning opportunities nationwide and also assist third-party investors, property owners and operators with all phases of development, construction and asset management, but will not provide property management.

Davos team members include Sunrise’s former North American business unit leaders for product development and market strategy (Phil Downey) and construction (Chris Tatum), and well as its former regional development executives for the Northwest(Frank Rockwood), Southwest (Wayne Sant), and Central territories (Laura Hester). Rockwood, based in San Francisco, tells GlobeSt.com that Davos will pursue assisted living, stand-alone Alzheimer/dementia care, independent living, continuing care retirement communities (and other full service senior communities), and age-restricted multifamily communities (including affordable senior apartments).

Rockwood is optimistic about the company’s likelihood of success given his team’s experience and the senior living industry in general. The company, which launched yesterday after the team signed off on the partnership agreement, is already working on various assignments, Rockwood says. The work includes development opportunities for which Davos is trying to piece together financing, and consulting work for property owners who feel senior living is the most suitable use.

“We are not immune to the credit situation; we’re working on pursuing HUD financing as well as private capital sources,” he says. “I’ve been in development for over 20 years and so I’m kind of used to these cycles. Usually it is because of oversupply but in our industry that is not the case; we have been building to incremental demand so the fundamentals for general assisted living product are really quite good.”

Whereas some other sectors are facing a 10% decline in occupancy, Rockwood says the senior living industry is looking at just a 1% decline, and that while some sectors are concurrently being hit with freefalling rents, rents in the senior living industry are flat to only modestly declining, he says.

“We have a strong belief the industry will rebound because it’s generally a need-based service and we’re selling to people who have accumulated assets over a long, long period of time,” he says. “Home equity is usually the nest egg people use to pay for senior living and our typical customer bought their home long ago for between $30,000 and $60,000. Yeah it’s not worth as much as it was two years ago but it is worth a lot more than $60,000.”

Sunrise Senior Living was the most active senior living developer in the world before a combination of bad bets and tight credit is forcing the company to focus on survival instead of growth, which meant shutting down dozens of active developments and letting go its development team. But the company continues to own and/or manage several hundred communities and employs tens of thousands of people. While Sunrise is not in a position to be a client of Davos at this time—the company is currently focused on avoiding bankruptcy–Rockwood says he would be delighted to work on behalf of Sunrise when they can again think about expanding.

“They are good at what they do,” he says. “We’re hoping they can one day be one of the company’s we help as a consultant or supplier.”

Rockwood joined Sunrise as a SVP of development in January 2006 to lead its Northwest development team. He was responsible for identifying and managing new senior living developments in Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, Western Canada and Hawaii. Prior to Sunrise, Rockwood held a variety of strategy, corporate development and investment positions with Transamerica Corp. and the Walt Disney Co. and with entities affiliated with Farallon Partners and Accenture. At Transamerica, Mr. Rockwood was instrumental in launching and guiding the Transamerica Senior Living business unit.

Phil Downey was the senior vice president of strategy and research for Sunrise from April 2003 to November 2008, when he left and launched his owns market research and advisory firm. Prior to Sunrise, Downey was the SVP of development planning for Marriott International. Chris Tatum was in charge of all of Sunrise’s construction activity from June 1997 to May 2007, during which time he developed and constructed some two dozen assisted living, independent living or senior condominium projects throughout North America. For the last two years he has been in charge of all construction activities in Southern California for BRE Properties, as well as principal of his own construction management consulting firm.

Laura Hester was in charge of developing Sunrise projects throughout the Midwest for nearly 10 years, managing site acquisition, site feasibility analysis, financial feasibility analysis, design coordination, procuring entitlements, and project oversight. Prior to that, she was an architectural designer for Gerald Yurl Associates. Wayne Sant had the same job description with Sunrise for the Southwestern US. He joined the company in 2001. Prior to that, he spent 5 years as a regional VP of development for Marriott Senior Living Services and, prior to that, he developed limited service hotels on the West Coast. From 1990-95 he managed a mixed portfolio of real estate assets for the Accord Group.

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