CINCINNATI — After several years of work, project partners finally got the chance to celebrate the completion of the Willkommen — a multi-building project that will bring dozens of affordable and market-rate apartments to downtown Cincinnati.

What You Need To Know

  • The Willkommen is a mixed-use, mixed-income development featuring both retail space and more than 160 apartment units

  • It was a partnership between 3CDC, Model Group, the City of Cincinnati and other partners

  • The $51 million project includes 20 different buildings spread throughout OTR

  • Willkommen is part of a "comprehensive strategy" by 3CDC to increase affordable housing in the urban core

Overall, the development includes 20 buildings scattered across the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. One of those is a new commercial building at 213 Woodward St., which served as a backdrop for a ribbon-cutting that took place Tuesday morning.

“We’ve been working on this project for well over four years now, so it’s almost like I can’t believe we’re standing here,” said Katie Westbrook, a development director for Cincinnati Center City Development Authority (3CDC), said during the event on the west side of Ziegler Park.

A rehabbed building in the 1400 block of Walnut Street. The rehab was part of the Willkommen project. (Photo courtesy of Frank D. Young)
A rehabbed building in the 1400 block of Walnut Street. The rehab was part of the Willkommen project. (Photo courtesy of Frank D. Young)

The 3CDC has worked on the Willkommen alongside a variety of partners over the years, but one of the biggest is Model Group, a local property revitalization firm.

The mixed-use, mixed-income project included the rehabilitation of 16 historic properties and four new builds. The new constructions were infills, or previously vacant or underused lots among older, existing properties. The total cost of the work came in at nearly $51 million.

The buildings have 163 total housing units ranging from efficiencies to three-bedrooms. More than half of the apartments, 88, will go to people making 50-80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI is a common metric for determining affordable housing.

The other 75 units are market rate, meaning they’ll go at the top expected price for the area.

Bobby Maly, CEO of Model Group, called Willkommen the “best kind of example of how to bring back life and energy into a neighborhood.” Not only will the project create more residential and commercial activity, but he feels it’ll bring “jobs and opportunities for our neighbors” as well.

An important part of the project, Maly said, was creating affordable and market-rate housing side-by-side that are “indistinguishable from each other.”

“This is the best example of how we can provide high quality affordable housing and be a part of neighborhood revitalization at the same time,” he said.

There’s also about 20,000 square feet of commercial space spread across the first floors of 12 of the properties.

Construction on Willkommen began in July 2020, but work between 3CDC and Model Group started more than four years ago. Model Construction served as the general contractor on the project, with City Studios and GBBN serving as architects.

The 16 historic buildings will be Enterprise Green Communities, a national sustainable building certification specifically for affordable housing. Three of the four infill buildings will achieve LEED silver certification, per 3CDC.

To make the Willkommen vision come to life, 3CDC and other partners used a complicated financing structure that included 13 different funding sources. That includes federal and state New Markets Tax Credits, federal and state Historic Tax Credits, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Opportunity Zone investments and conventional debt.

The City of Cincinnati provided $1 million in HOME funds, $4 million in direct funding and a 15-year CRA tax abatement.

The Willkommen project included more than 20 buildings scattered across Over-the-Rhine. This building is on Race Street. (Photo courtesy of Frank D. Young)
The Willkommen project included more than 20 buildings scattered across Over-the-Rhine. This building is on Race Street. (Photo courtesy of Frank D. Young)

“This is how you attract people to live and work downtown,” said interim City Manager John Curp.

But it’s not just “young people or empty-nesters,” he added.

Projects like this one make it possible for families and people of different income levels to do so as well.

“This administration will focus on development in all our communities,” Curp said “We want more projects like this in all of our neighborhoods.”

The Willkommen is part of 3CDC’s broader strategy to address a shortage of affordable housing, an issue plaguing cities across the country.

According to a recent report from real-estate broker Redfin, the median monthly rent in May was more than $2,000 per month. Cincinnati was among a group of metros with rate hikes of more than 30% over May 2021.

3CDC’s strategy has focused on creating mixed-income housing, permanent supportive housing for individuals suffering from substance abuse challenges and special needs housing, such as affordable housing for seniors.

A key to that strategy, according to a 3CDC spokesperson, is increasing not only the quantity of affordable units in the neighborhood but also improving the quality of new and existing affordable units.

3CDC works with several of the partners on such topics, including Model Group, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and the city. Since January, City Hall has earmarked millions of dollars for use on affordable housing. That includes appropriating federal pandemic relief funds toward the issue, the passage of housing-related initiatives by City Council and new funds approved as part of the city's budget process for the next fiscal year.

To date, 3CDC and its partners have developed 436 affordable units, roughly 74% of the units it’s developed in OTR.