Housing need, rail line bring development near U campus

  • Article by: JIM BUCHTA
  • Star Tribune
  • August 15, 2012 - 9:02 PM

A new light-rail line and strong demand for higher-quality student housing continues to spark more development around the University of Minnesota campus.

The latest project comes from the Opus Group, which said Wednesday that it plans to build a six-story apartment building with first-floor retail space in the heart of the campus. The Station on Washington will be at the former Mercil's Campus Auto Repair at the corner of Washington Avenue and Walnut Street, just across from a Central Corridor light-rail station under construction.

The new housing will offer the convenience of campus living with easy access to the light-rail line that will connect downtown Minneapolis with downtown St. Paul, said Dave Menke, senior vice president and general manager at Opus.

"The location for this project rivals the best locations on campus for students," he said.

Rental housing development around campus has been more than robust over the past year, fueled by both a lack of high-end options for renters and by a general lack of new construction over the past decade. There are more than 1,100 student housing units planned or under construction in the area, not including other projects geared toward the general market, according to Mary Bujold, president of Maxfield Research Group.

Opus is among a handful of local developers that have responded quickly to demand for modern rental housing designed specifically for college students. Kelly Doran of the Doran Cos. has built hundreds of units in the neighborhood and recently completed The Edge on Oak, which has 65 apartments.

That project, like others under construction, differs from typical rental housing in that units are designed with roommates in mind. Each bedroom usually has its own bathroom, and most units have small kitchens with just a breakfast bar and no formal dining room. The units are usually furnished.

Opus is no stranger to the neighborhood. The company just finished building and leasing Stadium Village Flats, which is fully leased with a CVS pharmacy, Noodles & Co. and Dino's Gyro on the main level.

An Opus representative said the company has no firm plans beyond the two projects but is considering other options.

While the number of units under construction in the area is unprecedented and student housing projects are leasing up quickly, that's unlikely to be the case long-term, Bujold said.

Local undergraduate admissions are expected to decline at the university over the next five years because of a slowdown in the number of high school graduates. When that happens, demand for student housing will slow as well, she said.

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376

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