The new owners of the Groves, an Independence institution for seven decades, say the facility is in good hands.

The new owners of the Groves, an Independence institution for seven decades, say the facility is in good hands.

Last week, the Community of Christ announced its sale of the retirement-living center to Elstar Enterprises in Chicago. The company has properties in Illinois and Missouri, including three nursing homes in the St. Louis area.

“We are going to maintain the culture. ... We are maintaining the same names, the same flavor,” said Albert Milstein, a manager with the company.

That was key among the church’s concerns. It was looking for a buyer that could tackle future financial challenges while maintaining the way the Groves has operated for years. For example, the Community of Christ will continue its ministries at the Groves, where it has a congregation and offers such efforts as a spirituality and aging program.

Elstar’s advantages lie, in part, in consolidated back-office operations, such as bookkeeping.

“We do larger purchases, so we can take advantage of that a little bit,” Milstein said.

That echoes comments by church leaders last week, who questioned how the Groves would make it in the future as a standalone facility.

Milstein would not disclose the purchase price.

Services at the Groves range from independent living to long-term therapy to an Alzheimer’s unit. The facility has about 450 residents and about 400 employees, all of whom are staying on. The goal is a transition that appears seamless to residents and their loved ones.

He did stress that Elstar executives believe they are getting a top-notch business.

“The facility is very well maintained,” he said. “The Community of Christ has done a very good job.”

Chugging along?

I thought my favorite economic barometer was headed upward. Well, maybe.

The way I figure it, one-third to maybe one-half of the residents of Independence – including me – live within earshot of the Union Pacific. That is to say, you can “hear that lonesome whistle blow,” to quote an old song, close to 50 times a day during good times. Obviously, those numbers have been off for some time.

This is subjective – I’m not actually sitting at Sonic counting the passing trains, fun as that might be – but there is something to it. More trains, more cargo, more goods moving to market. It’s one of thousands things some economists keep and eye on, and the lonesome whistle index, it has seemed to me, has been rising lately.

The actual data suggest a mixed picture. The Association of American Railroads found an overall decline of carloads in February, down 1.5 percent from February 2009 and down a whopping 15.6 percent from February 2008, more than half a year before the bottom fell out of the economy.

But the AAR says the month closed on a strong note: Rail freight reached its highest rate in more than a year during the week ending Feb. 27. The group tallied up 31.6 billion ton-miles for that week, a 3.9 percent rise from the same week in 2009 (but still 10.5 percent lower than the same period of 2008). Figures from the UP also muddy the picture: The railroad had more than 286,000 rail cars in use at this time last year, a figure it had lowered to 275,000 by the middle of this month.

No clear picture here, just some facts and figures to contemplate if find yourself sitting as a crossing, muttering about the delay.