A prime site near the University of Minnesota appears headed for an ambitious redevelopment that will bring apartments and retail space just a couple of blocks from the new Gophers football stadium.

Minnetonka-based Opus Northwest recently met with Minneapolis city planners to discuss preliminary plans for Campus Crossroads, a 280,000-square foot mixed-use project to be built on Washington Avenue between Oak and Ontario streets. The plans call for an eight-story building that would house 175 apartments atop about 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space, including a CVS Pharmacy, and two levels of underground parking.

Dave Menke, vice president of real estate development, declined to name a price for the project. He said Opus hopes to get final city approval this fall, begin construction early next year and complete the project by the start of the 2010 school year.

Plans call for the structure to be built around two existing buildings on Washington Avenue that house a Chipotle restaurant and a U.S. Army recruiting office.

The remaining properties, including the Oak Street Cinema, which closed earlier this year, would be demolished. Menke said Opus has purchase agreements with owners of the buildings that would be torn down.

Menke said proximity to the new stadium wasn't the primary reason Opus was attracted to the site. "We have made student housing a focus not just here but in other markets where we operate on the East and West Coasts," he said. "We believe there's considerable pent-up demand here for residential development near the campus."

He said the market for the apartments isn't just students, but other university-related users, such as employees of the nearby University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.

The site has become even more attractive since June, when university officials agreed to support a plan that will send the Central Corridor light-rail route through Washington Avenue, with a proposed station just a couple of blocks away.

The Opus development is the latest of three large apartment projects near the university proposed by private developers in the past year.

In April, Minneapolis-based Alatus Management presented preliminary plans to the city for a 30-story apartment tower on the site of the recently closed Grandma's restaurant on the West Bank, according to Emily Stern, a senior project coordinator for the city's planning department.

Late last year, Doran Development of Bloomington proposed 198 apartments as part of a redevelopment of the Dinkydome at 1501 University Av. The Planning Commission recently denied the developer's requests to rezone and grant variances at the site; Doran has said it will appeal the decision.

Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon, who represents the university area, said the addition of more apartments could help deter the ongoing conversion of single-family homes to rental properties and stabilize owner-occupied neighborhoods near the campus.

The Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association has no official position on the Opus project, but its initial reaction to the plans has been "very positive," according to Dick Poppele, president of the neighborhood organization. "Unfortunately, this area has attracted some rather shabby housing that's not doing any favors for students or neighborhood residents," he said. "It's nice to see something that's being built to last more than 20 years."

The new building would have several amenities, including a fitness center, study and game rooms, and a cyber cafe. All apartments would have their own washers and dryers. Menke declined to estimate a range in rents for the studio to four-bedroom units. Monthly rental rates for comparable apartment buildings now are around $700 per bedroom.

Poppele said Opus has responded well to some suggestions from the neighborhood group that include enhancing the streetscape along Washington and adding a pocket park. The developers also have agreed to include some design or building element that would commemorate the 92-year-old Oak Street Cinema, which originally was the Campus Theater.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723