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Top spot for retirement? Our Florence.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - Shh!

Don't tell anybody. Florence is the best place to retire in the country.

At least that's the statistical opinion of David Savageau, who ranks U.S. cities with a complicated formula of safety, affordability and ambience, among other things. Savageau's almanac, Retirement Places Rated, listed Florence as the top retirement spot in America, the book's publisher announced Wednesday.

Take that, sunny Florida. Chew on this, Arizona. Little old Florence is No. 1.

By little and old, by the way, we mean little and old. Florence is the smallest city on the top 10 list, and the town's average age is 55.8, more than 20 years older than the national average. Thirty-eight percent of Florence's 7,600 residents are at least 65 years old.

But that should be no surprise in a city that recently passed an ordinance to clear up the rules about driving "slow-moving vehicles" (golf carts) on city streets.

"I wanted a place of beauty, serenity, yet close to a place with symphony orchestras and that's what Florence provided," said 90-year-old P.T. Smith, the city's former mayor. `I remember when (former Siuslaw News publisher) Paul Holman retired and sold his interest in the paper. I asked him where he was going to move and he said, `Where else am I going to go?' '

Right here is where. And now that the secret's out - USA Today and Paul Harvey's nationally syndicated radio show both plugged this coastal city - retirees are sure to keep flocking to the City of Rhododendrons.

`I'm as happy as a cat's 'jamas,' said Mayor Alan Burns, a Florence mortician. "What makes Florence Florence is the people. It's something all the residents have known for a long time."

The yearly ranking compares 203 retirement destinations across the United States based on ambience, cost of living, climate, personal safety, services and the economy.

According to a news release from Savageau's publisher, Wiley Inc., baby boomers are less concerned about a mild climate and availability of leisure activities such as golf and shopping and more concerned about a city's ambience and cultural authenticity. Many want to work during retirement, adding to the importance of a vibrant economy.

USA Today reports that this year's study reflects a continuing shift from Florida as a retirement mecca to the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains and the Desert Southwest.

Florence was ranked No. 30 in the last study, conducted in 1999. It's ambience and local economy were considered strong points, despite a higher-than-average crime rate.

Florence was Oregon's second-fastest growing city from 1990 to 2000 and the coast's fastest, bulging by 43 percent during that decade

Not everyone is as exuberant as Burns about Florence's rampant growth, however. Some longtime residents such as Zane Ziemer would just as soon keep the town the size it already is - or maybe even a little smaller.

"I don't like it," griped the 75-year-old Ziemer, who has called Florence home since 1935. "We've got enough people here already. This is going to open the floodgates again."

Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030 or rgcoast@ oregonfast.net.

TOP 10 PLACES TO RETIRE

1. Florence

2. Scottsdale, Ariz.

3. Charleston, S.C.

4. Melbourne-Palm Bay, Fla.

5. North County San Diego, Calif.

6. Tucson, Ariz.

7. Medford-Ashland

8. Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H.

9. Daytona Beach, Fla.

10. Fayetteville, Ark.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 2, 2004
Words:562
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