For decades, families packed into big red vinyl booths and slurped noodles over checkered tablecloths in a northeast Minneapolis restaurant where Rose and Jim Totino pumped out millions of meatballs before selling their frozen pizza company to Pillsbury for $22 million.

Mama Rose's patented crispy-crust party pizzas are still being shipped across the country, but Totino's Italian Kitchen is dark and in disrepair. Last week the Minneapolis Planning Commission approved construction of Red 20, a 130-unit apartment building that will replace the restaurant and an adjacent parking lot where weeds sprout from cracked pavement.

"It's a premier site that could be a linchpin to make things in that neighborhood," said Hillcrest Development's Scott Tankenoff, the developer who is selling the site to Twin Cities-based developer, Schafer Richardson.

Its plans for the Totino's site include demolishing the restaurant and building a six-story building with 10,000 square feet of retail on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors.

The project, one of dozens of rental apartment buildings under construction in the city, is the first new major housing development in at least a decade in Old St. Anthony, a historic neighborhood within walking distance of the leafy trails along the Mississippi River, the skyscraper canyons of downtown and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.

Though one of the oldest communities in the city, the area went through a revival a decade ago, including the renovation of historic buildings into shops and restaurants, hundreds of new upscale condos and a Lunds grocery store. But many say another boom is well underway.

"We know for a fact that there are a lot of developers sniffing around," said Victor Grambsch, chair of the Nicollet Island-East Bank Neighborhood Association. "This is going to be the focus of the kind of development that we'll see here over the next couple decades."

Several redevelopment plans have been discussed for former commercial sites in the neighborhood, creating the expectation that Old St. Anthony could add several hundred more housing units. The two-block site where Superior Plating was once located could support 500 to 600 apartments. And two 130,000-square-foot warehouses built in 1901 are on the market and likely to be redeveloped into housing.

Grambsch said support for more housing, including Schafer's apartment plans, is strong. Some on the committee hoped that the new building would have even more density to help support neighborhood businesses and services.

Yet with plans to build light rail through the neighborhood, Grambsch said that he expects several more proposals.

"It's a pleasant development and we're happy that it's there, and we have to strike while the iron is hot," he said, referring to the latest wave of apartment development.

Schafer Richardson is no stranger to this part of the city. In the 1990s, the company bought and renovated the Banks Building, just across the street Totino's. Schafer Richardson located its headquarters in the building. A few blocks away, the company finished building Phoenix on the River, a luxury high-rise condo building overlooking St. Anthony Falls, in 2009.

Like other commercial developers that once built retail and for-sale housing, Schafer Richardson has refocused its efforts on the rental market. The company is building apartments across the river in the North Loop neighborhood, where several hundred units are already under construction, and has proposed an apartment project in Edina.

The building that will replace the Totino's site will include two floors of underground parking, but with its location along Central Avenue, Schafer Richardson hopes to attract tenants who don't rely on their car. To that end, the developer's senior project manager, Maureen Michalski, said there's going to be parking for more than 100 bikes and an on-site bike maintenance facility. There will also be a 900-square-foot dog park and a rooftop gathering space with a fire pit.

Schafer Richardson expects to close on the site in a few weeks and begin construction this summer with occupancy in late 2014. Rents will be less expensive than on the downtown side of the river, ranging from about $1,000 for a studio to $2,300 for a three-bedroom unit.

"There's lots of opportunity for us here," said Michalski. "We hope that it will be a real asset for the neighborhood."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376