Another new apartment complex recently opened up in central Phoenix. But this project, called First Place-Phoenix, is unlike any other rental development.
The 81,000-square-foot, $15.4 million project was designed to support adults with autism in living more independently.
It combines 55 apartments, a residential training program and a leadership institute for medical professionals and researchers.
Residents ranging from their early 20s to mid 40s began moving into the four-story property at Third Street and Catalina Drive in July.
“It’s the best place,” resident Lauren Harper said. “I love waking up in my new apartment, going downstairs to get my coffee and heading out to work.”
More than half a million children and teens with autism in this country will become adults over the next decade.
For more than 20 years, Denise Resnik dreamed of a place her son Matt and others with autism could live as adults.
“We traveled everywhere looking for a model, but we were looking for something that didn’t exist,” Resnik, First Place AZ founder and CEO, said. “We realized it wouldn’t exist until we created it.”
First Place includes special security features, a 24/7 staff, sound barriers blocking out street sounds, nontoxic materials and special lighting to mitigate sensory issues.
The stylish, modern apartments also include convenient “grab and go” stations where residents can charge their phones and store keys in an easy-to-remember spot.
The game room with the Arizona Cardinals theme is popular with new residents. The apartments come with their own kitchens with high-end appliances, but the decked-out kitchen on the first floor is another spot many residents hang out.
Matt Resnik, baker and founder of SMILE Biscotti, knows his way around a kitchen. He will move in to First Place next month — his first home away from home.
Denise Resnik said since July, First Place residents have been experiencing many firsts: First friendships, first time cooking on their own, first dates and first jobs.
“After more than two decades of researching and dreaming, it is awe-inspiring to see First Place-Phoenix buzzing with the activities of our first 32 residents and 24 employees,” Resnik said.
Some parents of the residents are also getting some firsts, including their first solo vacations without their kids.
“Before I moved into First Place, my parents were more nervous than me,” said Lindsey Eaton, a First Place resident and a member of its Council of Resident Engagement. “It means independence. It means the ability to do what I want, when I want, where I want and how I want.”
Annual tuition at First Place Transition Academy is $4,000 a month and includes an apartment, 24/7 support, utilities and classes at GateWay Community College. For apartments, rents start at $3,300 per resident for a two bedroom. That includes all the other amenities, except the college classes.
Phoenix was dubbed ‘the most autism-friendly city in the world’ by PBS NewsHour.
Sara Dial, First Place AZ board chair, said the community’s “overwhelming support” has led to First Place “leading the way with a new residential model for people with autism.”
It took decades of planning, research and forging community and financial partnerships to develop First Place.
“I want Phoenix to be the most disability-friendly city in the country,” said Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams at the community’s opening ceremony last week. “Not only is First Place–Phoenix’s approach innovative, but it also brings hope.”
First Place was designed and developed to be replicated in other cities.
“I have this vision of a multifamily developer in Cincinnati, who sees the First Place blueprint and decides to build one there,” said Adam Goodman, CEO of Phoenix-based Goodmans Interior Structures, who donated furniture to the development. “That’s how First Place scales, by entrepreneurs taking risks.”
There’s definitely demand as 500,000 children with autism become adults in America.