Preparations will begin Tuesday along the barren northern stretch of Nicollet Mall to make way for a 26-story luxury apartment tower -- the first new high-rise rental building in downtown Minneapolis' core in nearly three decades.

Opus Development Corp. and Founders Properties, both of Minnetonka, recently shored up financing for the project, expected to cost about $100 million. The 253-unit apartment tower, called The Nic on Fifth, will begin leasing studios, one- and two-bedroom units and penthouses in the summer of 2014. Rental rates have not been determined.

It is the latest luxury apartment building to dot the downtown landscape, as a recovering economy has tempted house-shy Baby Boomers and Millenials to the urban core. They have been lured by amenities such as rooftop terraces, yoga studios and concierge services, plus the convenience of light-rail transit -- in this case, the Fifth and Nicollet station -- and shopping and restaurants within walking distance.

Former home of Powers department store, the site at Fifth Street and Nicollet Mall is a surface parking lot and forgettable two-story building most recently a nightclub. Once Opus completes the apartment tower, it will start building an expansion of the Xcel Energy Corp. campus on an adjacent spot at Fourth Street and Nicollet Mall with a nine-story office building.

"In 3 1/2 years, most of that block will be completely transformed," said Dave Menke, senior vice president and general manager of Opus' Minneapolis office.

In its long-term plan, the city and the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a group of local business leaders, have called for revitalizing the northern stretch of Nicollet Mall, from the light-rail station at Fifth Street to the Mississippi River, by building a linear park to help spur development.

Already, Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. U.S. Inc. is developing a $70 million mixed-use complex at the corner of Hennepin and Washington Avenues on the former Jaguar dealership lot. Anchored by organic and natural foods grocer Whole Foods, the project also features 286 luxury apartments. A Michigan-based developer, Village Green, is renovating the historic Soo Line Building on Fifth Street and Marquette Avenue into high-end apartments.

The Opus tower will feature a 24/7 door attendant and concierge service, an outdoor roof terrace with pool and spa, a fitness center, yoga studio, private theater, outdoor firepit and grilling amenities, guest suites, 9- to 10-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling glass and a dog play area. It will be built to attain LEED green environmental certification, and will link to Fifth Street Towers by skyway. (A skyway link to the Nieman Marcus store in Gaviidae Common, which is slated to close, is part of the design but not in the initial plans.)

Opus Design-Build LLC will construct the building. Executives involved in the tower were also involved in the 39-story Carlyle, which hugs the Mississippi River, and the 27-story Grant Park condominium projects.

Opus' partner in the deal, Founders Properties, is a privately held firm formed by Best Buy founder Richard Schulze and Opus founder Gerald Rauenhorst. Founders has about 100 properties nationwide, including office, industrial, retail and mixed-use properties.

"This is a major investment in downtown. We are really excited to be involved in a very high-profile project," said Wade Lau, Founders' senior vice president.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752