North Loop project would add retail, 106 apartments

  • Article by: JIM BUCHTA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2012 - 7:31 AM
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The Velo apartment/retail complex Opus Corp. has proposed for 103 N. 2nd St.

Photo: , Rendering by Elness Swenson ­Graham ­Architects

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The downtown Minneapolis apartment boom continues with a new project from Opus Corp., which said Thursday that it plans to build 106 units on top of 12,000 square feet of retail space.

Velo, the French word for bicycle, will pay homage to the city's distinction as one of the most bike-friendly communities in the country, said Tom Lund, Opus vice president of real estate development.

"The North Loop is a fabulous neighborhood with a lot of great things happening," Lund said.

The 106 units is in addition to nearly 1,000 apartments under construction, or near construction, in the North Loop neighborhood, a once-gritty warehouse district that connects the downtown central business district with the Mississippi riverfront.

Because of its prime location and abundance of redevelopment opportunities, the neighborhood is a hotbed of development activity in the Twin Cities. Just across the street, Ryan Companies has already started construction on a 580,000-square-foot mixed-use project, including a Whole Foods grocery store and 286 apartments.

Demand for rental apartments in downtown Minneapolis has been immense. Marquette Advisors said that the average vacancy rate in the area was less than 2 percent at the end of 2011.

David Frank, chair of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, said that the group has reviewed the plans and supports such projects. It's also evidence of how a project like the new Whole Foods store can lead to other developments, he said.

"It shows the leverage that results from adding amenities to a neighborhood that's in transformation," he said. "It brings more attention from people who are willing to invest."

Lund agrees. "With Whole Foods as our neighbor, that's a real plus."

Opus is already deep in the planning process for the Nicollet Residences, a $100 million, 33-story tower at Nicollet Mall and S. 5th Street. Lund said the company is getting bids for the project and hopes to break ground this summer.

Velo will be built on a site owned by Merit Printing at 103 N. 2nd St. The company has a contract to buy the property, and expects the project to go before the city Planning Commission in early April.

The apartments will be ready for occupancy in August 2013, Lund said, and will rent for an average of $2 per square foot. The group plans to attract commercial tenants that will honor the spirit of the project. Lund hopes that will bring active renters who will make use of the nearby recreational paths and other outdoor activities. A locally owned restaurant, yoga studio and bike shop are all on the wish list.

"We're trying to build on creating more of a healthy lifestyle by including some of the things that would be attractive to people in this neighborhood," Lund said.

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376

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