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Seniors Reinvent Retirement in Las Vegas Area

Housing: Recreation, sunshine, shows and a favorable tax structure draw retirees to Nevada.

April 22, 2001|ANGIE WAGNER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAS VEGAS — The smack of tennis balls echoes through the warm Saturday morning air as a sea of retirees takes over the courts. They are out in force this day, trying out new rackets, relishing the sunshine and the different kind of retirement they've found.

"It's the great life," tennis instructor Tom Soong, 58, said.

It is indeed for retirees, who are younger and healthier than ever and flocking to retirement communities here because of Las Vegas' appeal.

"The weather, the taxes, how beautiful it is out here," Barb Booth said, a tennis racket slung over her shoulder.

About 20% of Clark County's 1.4 million people are 55 and older, and predictions are that retirees have only just begun to discover Las Vegas. A study by the National Assn. of Home Builders says Nevada will be the nation's most popular senior housing market for the next several years.

The image of retirees playing shuffleboard and knitting in rocking chairs is long gone. Seniors who come to Las Vegas to retire are starting new careers, honing Internet skills and relishing their quiet communities. Call it retirement reinvented.

*

Terry Culp and his wife, Claudia, retired to Las Vegas 2 1/2 years ago after selling their manufacturing equipment company in Buffalo, N.Y.

"We didn't really want to live next to the boom box, three cars in the driveway," Claudia Culp said.

They researched cities, real estate, what each place had to offer, and decided Las Vegas--with its world-class restaurants, entertainment and warm climate--was best for them.

"We love music, both of us," said Claudia Culp, 54. "Of course, the Strip has that any day of the week."

They moved into Sun City Anthem in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas, and Terry Culp, 55, spent his days golfing. The couple ventured onto the Strip often to dine and take in shows. He took college classes to stay busy.

But when it seemed they had played all the golf they could, the couple decided they were bored.

"We're young enough to do something totally different," Claudia Culp said.

So Terry Culp, who had worked 25 years with his New York company, decided to return to work, becoming a field engineer for the Manufacturing Assistance Partnership program at UNLV. The program offers financial, technological and marketing help to local companies.

"Our idea of retirement is not necessarily sitting in the rocking chair waiting for the grim reaper," he said. "I'm doing things I never thought I'd be doing. I just don't view myself as a retired person."

Terry Culp enjoys his job so much that he goes to retirement communities in town to recruit other retirees to work for the businesses he helps.

"They're interested in contributing to the community. They've got a lot of time on their hands."

His wife plans to pursue a master's degree in library science over the Internet.

When Terry Culp isn't working, the couple spend time in the community's gym or log on to one of the six computers they have in their home.

"We retired from the first life, the first phase, and now we're just moving onto something else altogether," Claudia Culp said. "We don't know what we're going to be when we grow up."

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Retirement communities have certainly changed since Del Webb Corp., a leading builder in the senior housing market, built its first one in Phoenix in 1960.

"At the time it was sewing clubs and shuffleboard," said Sean Patrick, spokesman for Del Webb in Las Vegas. "We don't even have shuffleboard courses anymore."

Now the most popular club at Del Webb's Sun City Summerlin in northwest Las Vegas is the computer club. About 1,700 retirees are members. They learn about graphics and how to pay bills on the Internet.

Del Webb developed three retirement communities in town. When all the homes are sold, the company predicts almost 36,000 retirees will live in them. Sun City communities are also found in retirement hotbeds such as Florida, Arizona and California.

The three here all have golf courses, huge recreation areas and numerous clubs to join. Del Webb has found that some retirees start new careers; others move their extended families nearby and begin new memories.

Nevada's favorable tax structure is also a draw. By living in Nevada, retirees avoid state income taxes, inheritance taxes and gift taxes.

"They're places individuals can move to and do the things they've always wanted to do," Patrick said.

In Sun City Anthem, 40% of the residents are still employed. "The words retirement don't even fit anymore," he said.

*

On this day, dozens of so-called retirees are on the tennis courts at Sun City Anthem, trying out new rackets. No one sits and watches; this is an active bunch that, except for the silver hair, could resemble the kids at a high school tennis practice.

Booth, a retired schoolteacher from Sterling, Ill., is done with her game for the day, so she slings her racket over her shoulder and leaves the courts.

"Most of us have been too busy working to be young and athletic," she says. "This is our last chance."

She is a stark contrast to the local senior citizens, who mostly live in apartment complexes. They have less money than the transplanted retirees, who buy spacious homes and live in the retirement communities.

"You can sit in the hot tub overlooking the lights of the Strip," Claudia Culp says. "You pinch yourself and say, 'Yahoo!' "

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