New Residential Mixed-Use Development Planned for McKinney, Texas

Are there enough Ken Cooper devotees to fill a village?

Georgia-based Wellstone Communities LLC is building an $800 million mixed-use development in McKinney because it believes there are.

Wellstone, under the leadership of chief executive John Lowery, teamed up with the father of aerobics and his son, Tyler Cooper, to develop the nation's first luxury community focused on fitness and wellness - right down to the restaurants' menus,

The 51-acre Cooper Life at Craig Ranch will have 223 single-family homes, 592 condos and lofts, shops, cafes, parks and outdoor exercise areas with the 75,000-square-foot Cooper Aerobics Center as its hub.

This will be carefree living on antioxidants.

Not only will Cooper Life have concierge services like those at a Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton residential development, but there's also a support system to help residents live healthier: doctors, dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers all available for house calls.

"We're trying to create an environment where healthy choices are easy options," says Dr. Tyler Cooper, president of Cooper Life.

In case you haven't gotten that far north, Craig Ranch is a 2,500-acre new-urbanism development that also features the PGA Tour Tournament Players Club golf course and other commercial, residential and sport-related facilities.

Wellstone and the Coopers have a 20-year contract to reproduce Cooper Life developments around the globe. But 35-year-old Tyler and his 75-year-old dad had a daunting list of requirements before they signed their famous names to the deal.

They can veto restaurants that don't pass their nutritional standards and shape 25 percent of the menus of those that do.

"The Coopers had their pick of the litter in terms of picking a strategic alliance," Mr. Lowery says. "It took a monumental effort on our part to pull this off."

RTKL chosen

Mr. Lowery spent $500,000 selecting an architectural firm, bringing representatives from three contenders to McKinney for a two-day confab about Craig Ranch and the Coopers' vision. Ultimately, the trio settled on Baltimore-based RTKL Associates Inc., which has an office in Dallas.

"I've met with the Coopers every Thursday for the past year designing every component of every building that goes into this project," says Mr. Lowery.

Dr. Ken Cooper calls their partnership "divine intervention." His son agrees.

"Over the years, we've had countless opportunities to expand all over the world. We just clicked with John and Wellstone. I'm glad we did because we have a wonderful relationship."

Mr. Lowery explains the alliance this way: "The Coopers have a contract with the Cooper Life homeowners association to provide all of the services - security, getting your car serviced, picking up your dry cleaning to the medical.

"We're putting up the money to build it. They're putting up the money to manage it."

Cooper Life is being touted as an "ageless" community. But by sheer economics, its target market is probably people 50 and older.

Single-family homes will be priced from $600,000 to $2 million, with multifamily housing running $400,000 to $600,000. Homeowner association fees are expected to run $1,100 to $2,000 a month.

"We expect the first house to be completed and occupied by next September," says Mr. Lowery.

First United Bank in Durant, Okla., is providing a portion of the construction financing because its 42-year-old chief executive, Greg Massey, is a believer.

A year ago, he became a Cooper convert when the staff at the Aerobics Center told him to drop 30 pounds, exercise more, lower his cholesterol and get his blood sugar under control, then showed him how to do it.

Now the bank has a full-time Cooper-trained wellness director who is fitness guru to its 600 employees in Oklahoma and Texas.

But Mr. Massey wouldn't lend $22 million just because of that.

"I think there is a great audience for this development," he says. "They're projecting that they'll sell out the homes in a two-year period. I think they'll go a lot quicker than that."

Foreign officials

Even before the first foundation is poured, foreign officials from a half-dozen countries, including Thailand and South Korea, have hit up the Coopers about bringing their healthful lifestyles concept to their countries.

During a recent visit here, Yousef Omair bin Yousef, chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Corp., toured Craig Ranch at the urging of Ross Perot Jr. The prince immediately invited the Cooper entourage to his country to explore the possibilities for a Cooper Life in Abu Dhabi, which has large number of people at risk for diabetes.

"We said yes," says the elder Dr. Cooper. "But we haven't pursued that yet. We have our hands full here."

So who decides where to go next?

"We'll do it jointly," Mr. Lowery says. "We have a mutual opportunities agreement."

In addition to Cooper Life, Wellstone has $1 billion in construction projects around the Southeast and Southwest and has been active in North Texas for 10 years.

Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who've heard of the company.

Wellstone's lineage is tied to the Presbyterian Church of America. It's a spin-off of now publicly held Cornerstone Ministries Investment Co., which was started by the church 22 years ago to finance sanctuaries for early stage churches. Wellstone was started to build retirement complexes for church members.

Mr. Lowery and four partners own the company, which is based in suburban Atlanta.

About a third of its business is apartment complexes for active seniors who no longer want to own a home. Locally, it has complexes in Lewisville and Garland.

It also builds single-family starter homes in minority neighborhoods to stimulate economic activity.

Wellstone is developing Light Point Place, a neighborhood of 172 houses priced from $145,000 to $165,000 at Buckner Boulevard and Interstate 30.

"But our bread and butter," Mr. Lowery says, "is building 150- to 250-unit lifestyle communities for baby boomers and baby boomer-pluses who want to downsize their homes and get rid of the maintenance. These are not large Sun Cities. They are more intimate and campuslike."

Memberships

Mr. Lowery met the Coopers while building Wellstone at Craig Ranch, which will have 202 ranch-style condominium homes. Each house comes with a lifetime social membership to the golf club and a two-year prepaid family membership at the Cooper Aerobics Center.

Wellstone has other projects in Craig Ranch.

Earlier this month, it broke ground on Michael Jordan's 25,000-square-foot training and research center, where Olympic gold medalists will train high-performance athletes.

"And we're about to sign a deal with what will be a 110-room boutique hotel on the Cooper Life grounds primarily for Cooper patients," Mr. Lowery says over lunch in the West End.

David Craig, the 50-year-old mastermind behind the master-planned community, sees a kindred spirit in Mr. Lowery.

"You have to be very careful who you partner with to make sure that they share the same vision as yours. John has done everything he's promised and more."

With more than 800 homes to sell, Wellstone can no longer afford to be invisible.

It recently paid more than $1 million to be the title sponsor for the next few years of a White Rock Marathon-style race at Wellstone.

"We thought it was important to make a statement about our commitment to Dallas," says Mr. Lowery.

"Until now, we had no reason to be high-profile. But when you're connected at the hip with the father of aerobics and you're building the first-of-its-kind lifestyle community with an $800 million price tag, you have to position yourselves in the market."


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