Columbus, May 16, 2023 – Construction has begun at Starling Yard, the highly anticipated 97-unit affordable housing community located in the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus at 120 S. Central Avenue. Starling Yard, which combines historic adaptive reuse and new construction, is being developed by Woda Cooper Companies, Inc. with co-developer Franklinton Development Association (FDA).
The two organizations hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony May 16 featuring City of Columbus officials, including Mayor Andrew Ginther, plus representatives of Franklin County, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and other partners and supporters.
Starling Yard will adapt the vacant Starling Middle School into 45 modern apartments with modern amenities and contemporary finishes to complement the historic site. The site was secured by the development team through a purchase agreement with the Board of Education of the Columbus City School District. The Starling school, listed on the Columbus Register of Historic Properties in 2022, was originally built as West High School in 1908 in the Neoclassical Doric style. It has been vacant since 2013. Design for new apartments in the historic building will take into consideration the existing character to preserve and restore architectural features such as original tin ceilings, flooring, doors, trim, and chalkboards. The design team’s goal is to show off the history and significance of the building while repurposing it for the community’s needs in the present. Before the redevelopment plans were put into place, the school was in danger of demolition and listed on the Columbus Landmarks most endangered site list in 2021.
In addition to the historic adaptive reuse units, Starling Yard will offer 52 units constructed in two new three-story buildings designed to complement the historic school. The new buildings are in scale with the historic building and compatible with homes in the local residential neighborhood. Porches will be placed along the street front elevations. Materials will mimic those found in the neighborhood and architectural details, such as dormers and cornice details, complement nearby buildings. The brick color selected is similar to that found in the existing historic building.
Starling Yard is the type of innovative construction Columbus needs to combat this housing crisis. Woda Cooper Companies is renovating the once-vacant Starling Middle School and converting it into affordable housing units for our residents,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. “These 45 new units will be accompanied by two three-story walkups bringing the total number of affordable housing units for this complex to nearly 100. This campus-like model is guaranteed to offer many of our neighbors a quality place to live.”
Starling Yard will provide 40 one-bedroom, 45 two-bedroom apartments, and 12 three-bedroom units, offering affordable rental rates for residents that earn 30% to 80% area median income. Rental rates are projected to range from $400 to $1,295 per month, depending on the income restriction and size of the unit. There are five units adapted for those with mobility challenges and two units for those with sight and hearing disabilities.
Apartments will offer large living spaces; kitchens with ENERGY STAR appliances, including dishwashers; microwaves; washer/dryer hookups; and plenty of storage. Interiors feature attractive finishes, quality cabinetry, and luxury vinyl tile flooring. Lifestyle amenities include a community room with kitchenette, laundry room. There will be a management office for an onsite community manager.
“Starling School was in danger of demolition and listed on the Columbus Landmarks most endangered sites list in 2021 and we are very proud it will be saved and adapted for quality affordable housing in Franklinton where it is needed for workforce families, especially,” said Jeffrey J. Woda, Woda Cooper Companies’ Founder.
Co-developer Franklinton Development Association’s mission is to help ensure housing options that are affordable for various income level residents are available in the neighborhood. “FDA is proud to be part of Starling Yard. This project is the perfect example of what our organization wants to see in our community, providing homes for very low-income families and moderate-income households to live as neighbors under the same roof,” said FDA Executive Director Eric Skidmore. “In addition, we are pleased with the opportunity to preserve one of our neighborhood’s historic works of architecture, a school attended by generations of Franklinton’s young people.”
Primary financial support for Starling Yard is the result of a bond issuance and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits allocated by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA). “The transformation of the Starling School into new affordable housing will preserve a cornerstone of the Franklinton neighborhood,” said Shawn Smith, OHFA’S Executive Director. “When this project is complete Starling Middle School will once again be a place where families will make lifelong memories and friendships will be forged. Together we are creating safe, affordable housing, which is essential to the strength of a community. OHFA is proud to be a partner on this project, and congratulates Woda and all the partners involved on the groundbreaking today.”
Equity financing was provided through syndicator Marble Cliff Capital (MCC) who also invested in federal historic tax credits, as well as Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits awarded by Ohio Department of Development. “Marble Cliff Capital is so excited to be a part of the historic renovation of the former Starling Middle School into much needed affordable housing for families in Franklinton. The financing structure was very complex and we want to take the opportunity to sincerely thank all parties involved for helping to make this housing a reality for 97 households,” said President Jack Kukura, Marble Cliff Capital.
A permanent first mortgage was provided by Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust. “Supporting the development of new affordable housing options is critical in our mission as a lender supporting neighborhoods and communities. We are pleased to provide financial support to Starling Yard in Columbus,” said Michael J. Goerdt, Vice President, Specialty Finance Group.
Other lenders include OHFA, the City of Columbus, Franklin County via its Magnet Funds program, MCC affiliate Marble Cliff Communities, the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus & Franklin County (AHT), and the Housing Action Fund (HAF), an affiliate of AHT.
“Our community is experiencing exponential growth. We need housing to keep pace, if we are to remain economically competitive,” said AHT’s President and CEO Lark Mallory, Esq. “It is projects like Starling Yard, it is developers like Woda Cooper, and their nonprofit partners like FDA, that will help us on the housing side. Starling Yard is such a creative concept! We are proud to be able to partner on the financing.”
The Huntington National Bank was bond purchaser and provided a construction loan. “Huntington National Bank is dedicated to our communities and proud to help provide construction financing for the Starling Yard project, said Gina Schnaudt, Vice President. “It will provide a safe, secure, affordable, and convenient housing option that supports our neighbors and their families in Franklinton. Huntington is immensely proud to have played a part in this important endeavor.”
AHT, HAF, and OHFA are providing equity bridge loans. Starling Yard also benefits from taxable lease revenue bonds issued by Columbus-Franklin County Finance Authority.
“We thank our co-developer and partners who have helped make Starling Yard a reality to provide 97 quality, energy efficient, and affordable rental homes that will help the City of Columbus and the Franklinton neighborhood address its need for more housing options,” said Woda.
Historic and contemporary architecture and design is performed by PCI Design Group. Structure Point is civil engineer. Providence Engineering is structural engineer, with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering performed by Prater Engineering. Sustainability consultant is Sol Design + Consulting. Woda Construction Inc. is general contractor and Woda Cooper’s management division, Woda Management & Real Estate, will oversee leasing and property management. For more information about leasing, visit wodagroup.com or call 614-905-1477.
About Woda Cooper Companies, Inc. Woda Cooper Companies, Inc. and its affiliates specialize in the development, design, construction, and management of high-quality affordable multi-family communities, senior communities, and single-family homes. The company was founded in 1990 and now has operations in 17 states and a portfolio of approximately 350 communities and 15,000 units. Green building is standard with certifications including Passive House, Zero Energy Ready Homes, LEED, Enterprise Green, EarthCraft, and ENERGY STAR. Woda Cooper Companies has offices in Savannah, GA; Indianapolis, IN; Shelbyville, KY; Queenstown, MD; Mackinaw City, MI; Columbus, OH; and Norfolk, VA. Affordable Housing Finance magazine ranked Woda Cooper Companies 10th in nation among Developers and 17th among Owners in 2022.
About Franklinton Development Association Franklinton Development Association’s mission is to stabilize and positively impact our community through the lens of housing. We strengthen the Franklinton community through affordable housing, neighborhood advocacy, and financial education. Operating since 1993, Franklin Development Association was started as a board-led non-profit aimed to create affordable homeownership opportunities. Our highest priority is to serve our residents to the best of our ability. We are dedicated to creating housing opportunities for people at all income levels, but especially those struggling financially. We are built around cooperation, hard work, empathy, and a love for Franklinton and its residents.