Touring The Mariner, one year into construction

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

It has been one year since The Mariner assisted living project broke ground at 265 Pleasant St., and construction is speeding toward a May 1 opening.

Developers Heather Cairns and Michael LaFayette, who are married and live in town, led Marblehead News on a tour through the sprawling, 83,000-square-foot building that will soon be home to more than 100 seniors. 

Developers Michael LaFayette and Heather Cairns stand at the entrance to The Mariner, which is set to open May 1.
PHOTO: Leigh Blander

“We get chills seeing it now,” said Cairns. “It’s our baby.”

The Mariner sits on 4.5 acres at the former Killam estate, which dates back to the late 1800s. Cairns, LaFayette and their neighbor (and partner) Phil Helmes bought the property in 2014 and knocked down two buildings on site. They spent a year putting together a team, including architects.

The $45 million project was dogged by controversy early on, with neighbors expressing concern about excessive traffic, noise and lighting. It took five years to get final approval.

“We went through 19 hearings, three town boards, 14 judges and four courts,” including the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, LaFayette said.

The Mariner team met with every abutter and agreed to modify landscaping and parking to address their concerns.

“We met 72 conditions from the town,” LaFayette said. “We followed every single one.”

Construction plans for the building itself, however, haven’t changed at all.

“Not a nail,” Cairns said.

Architects’ rendering of The Mariner

‘We’re already close to selling out’

The Mariner has 108 beds in 87 units, including 40 assisted living and 21 independent living. A memory care community has 26 units. There are studios, and one- and two-bedroom units.

The facility will offer three meals a day, a nurse on-site 24/7, laundry, a cafe, pub, library, salon with massage services, fitness/wellness center, art studio, movie theater and more. Transportation and light housekeeping will also be included.

The price? All-inclusive rents range from $4,000 to $9,000 a month – private pay only.

Rendering of the lobby at The Mariner

“We’re already close to selling out; there’s a waiting list,” LaFayette said. “And we haven’t even started marketing yet. Right now, 100 percent of the people are from Marblehead or repatriating to Marblehead.”

The Mariner has three floors. Common areas and the memory care unit are on the first, residences and common areas are on the second, and only residences are on the third.

LaFayette and Cairns are determined to infuse the Mariner with as much Marblehead history and culture as possible. They’re working with the Marblehead Museum and Historical Commission to display models of local ships, hang old photos and add other local details throughout the building.

All the hallways will be named after Marblehead streets, and units will be named after Navy ranks. LaFayette is working on a 12-stop walking path around the grounds with educational kiosks.

Marblehead’s aging population

Marblehead’s population is getting older. The number of households led by someone 55 or older jumped 21 percent from 2010 to 2017. And the number of residents 25-44 years old shrank by 63 percent in the same time period, according to the Marblehead Housing Production Plan. 

At the same time, 77 percent of houses in Marblehead are single-family, which are not always affordable or accessible for seniors. 

“We are providing housing for our local seniors,” LaFayette said.

Teri McDonough at the Marblehead Housing Authority supports The Mariner, but points out there is a lack of affordable senior housing in town.

“No matter what, I’m a huge proponent of The Mariner; the product is going to be in demand,” she said. “There’s also a huge need for affordable senior housing in town, along with expanded home care services to keep people in their homes longer.”

Meet Northbridge

Once construction is complete, the Marblehead developers will turn The Mariner over to Northbridge Communities to operate. Northbridge runs 19 other assisted living facilities around New England. It plans to hire 55 people to work in Marblehead.

The Mariner is opening a sales office on Atlantic Avenue this month. Anyone interested can place a deposit to get on the list.

“Deposits put you in the queue,” LaFayette said. “We will let people know in the late winter and early spring.”

As Cairns and LaFayette will tell you, this project is close to their hearts.

“I was born and raised in Marblehead and graduated from Marblehead High,” Cairns said. “This is personal. We care what people think.”

Cairns and LaFayette go over plans inside The Mariner.
PHOTO: Leigh Blander

1 Comment

  • Starr Campbell

    Surprised to read that The Mariner is almost sold out! I have been on your “preferred list” (those who have sent in $1000) but never been contacted regarding reserving an apartment.

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