Working quietly and diligently, the Tucson-based Watermark Retirement Communities organization has become the proverbial acorn that sprouted a mighty oak tree—now with 52 communities in over 20 states. Those property holdings include the local landmark, The Hacienda at the River (Road), which is about to be joined by Hacienda at the Canyon near Sabino Canyon and River Road.

Starting with one property in the mid-1980s (The Fountains at La Cholla), developer/owner/operator David Freshwater grew that nexus into one of the nation’s Top 25 senior housing facilities—and then sold it for half a billion dollars, one of the largest such transactions in the history of the senior housing industry.

If you can build one, why not build more? 

Freshwater was joined in 1989 by operations teammate David Barnes and together the two Davids have collaborated to build a multi-billion-dollar empire. According to Bloomberg, David #1 (Freshwater) is “a consummate entrepreneur” and “based on his innovative vision, management track record, and long-term growth strategy, (is) positioned for future success.”

“According to the American Seniors Housing Association, we’re the 13th largest management company in the country,” says Barnes, “and with these additions, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t move up higher on that list.” Not bad for a company that calls Tucson its national headquarters.

Locally, the two began operations with a former dude ranch property in the 2700 block of East River Road at Hacienda del Sol Road, and designing in the tradition of a colonial hacienda, built the $35 million Haciendas at the River that opened in February 2017, a 7½-acre residential campus assisted living community, inaugurating new concepts in short- and long-term rehabilitative care.

Freshwater and Barnes are calculated risk-takers, often described as passionate visionaries whose minds never stop thinking what can be done differently and how to accomplish those feats. They’re not impulsive jump-into-the-deep-end daredevils, but they’re not afraid to try something new either. They have become paradigm shifters. 

“We’ve been a quiet company for three decades now. Hardly anyone knew much about Watermark because we conducted most of our business out of town,” says Freshwater. “We finally decided it was time to introduce ourselves locally.”

Now comes the newest site (in addition to another joint-partnership endeavor in Marana), a 10½-acre senior living campus—The Hacienda at the Canyons—built on the site of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sanctuary. 

First phase of the $80 million endeavor will feature integrative wellness programs for independent and assisted living and memory care—158 independent living units, 76 assisted living quarters, and 40 memory care apartments. With to-date deposits received on approximately one third of those units, future plans for the four-phase senior community—which may not be that far off in the future—include additional independent living units as well as a memory care building and cottages (casitas).

Residential units in the campus of three-story buildings come in one- and two-bedroom apartments of 800-1300 square feet or studio or 1-bedroom accommodations for residents needing daily activity assistance. One large unit will house a program for residents requiring memory care.

Community planning and architectural design was coordinated by Scottsdale design firm Allen + Philp, assigned the mission of proving the kinds of design that “improves the human condition.” 

Watermark Chairman Freshwater says the Canyon project will “have a Southwestern feel to it with a Santa Barbara touch, more of a resort feeling in keeping with a theme of wellness. Not only will this place be different in architecture, it’s also unique in approach and philosophy, different from every other nursing home and rehabilitation center in the country.” 

On a recent hard-hat tour of the construction site, the two Davids expressed commitment to their vision of “creating an innovative wellness community where people thrive.”

“A lot of what we own and manage are communities built for The Great Generation, but we’re now approaching Baby Boomers who think differently,” says Freshwater. Adds Barnes: “In looking at what motivates the current generation, choice is the No. 1 driver.” And there’s plenty of that to be found at the Canyon facility. 

“Not unlike Hacienda at the River, Hacienda at the Canyon will embrace nutrition and healthy dining as a core belief,” Freshwater says. “As people age, they have health issues and we can coordinate and advocate on their behalf.

“Hacienda at the River is an integrative care community designed for people who need assisted living or memory care or perhaps rehabilitation. Here at the Canyon, we will be an integrated wellness community focusing on a younger population without major health issues, but wanting to live in a setting that will be pro-actively looking at things like health and wellness to maintain that status.”

A lot of local jobs were created with the advent of the two Hacienda sites, some involving the actual building of the facilities, others as permanent staff hires. “There were something like 350-400 jobs for the River site with at least double that here if you include everything from design (INDEVCO), architecture, construction (Kitchell Contractors is the primary) plus the people who will end up working here. It has a rippling effect.”

It’s a ripple that continues to widen with an option for 62 total acres at that location. “We looked at this site in 2008 before everything went downhill,” says Freshwater. “About a year or so ago, the time was right and we purchased the first phase of land acquisition. The Hacienda at the Canyon, Phase I, is slated to open in March 2019, and with encouraging pre-lease deposits, we’re already looking ahead at the next phase, another land purchase of an additional eight acres this fall.”

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