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When Chris Erickson looks at University Place, he sees an underserved area.

Within a mile are about 10,000 students attending Nebraska Wesleyan University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus.

Those students need more places to live and more entertainment options, Erickson said.

Which is why he wants to redevelop part of the shopping center at 48th Street and Leighton Avenue into a mixed-use project that will offer nearly 200 apartments as well as bars and restaurants.

The $35 million project proposes two new buildings where a former grocery store space sits empty now. One building would be five stories and the other four. They would have 28,000 square feet of commercial space combined on the ground floors and a total of 184 market-rate apartments. The rest of the center would remain as is, and current tenants would stay.

More living and entertainment options, "are really the two big voids we want to fill with the project," Erickson said.

He and his development partner, Dan White, bought the roughly 100,000-square-foot shopping center in the fall of 2014 for $7.6 million.

Erickson said they thought the center was likely a candidate for a future redevelopment project, but that prospect was accelerated when Hy-Vee closed its Mainstreet small-format grocery store just a few months later.

He said he plans to target restaurants and bars for the commercial space but would also consider office uses. One thing he will not have, however, is a grocery store.

That's the one use neighbors would like to see in the center, but they realize Hy-Vee's lease, which allows it to keep the space from being rented to competitors, makes that unlikely.

As for what Erickson is proposing, the reaction from the neighbors has been "very positive," said Mike DeKalb, a member of the University Place Community Organization board of directors and a former Lancaster County planner.

"We want to see it redeveloped," he said.

Erickson said he also has gotten very positive feedback from city officials.

As proposed, the project would use an estimated $4.2 million in tax-increment financing to help pay for improvements that would benefit the public.

Depending on the success of the project, there could be a second phase in the future with more apartments, commercial space and potentially a parking garage.

Erickson said he does not see any conflict between his proposal and another redevelopment project at 48th and Holdrege streets.

Schafer Richardson Inc. of Minneapolis and Lincoln-based Greenleaf Properties plan a five-story building with 22,000 square feet of retail on the first floor and 98 apartments on the four upper floors. Demolition work has started on that project, and the developers hope to complete it by late next summer.

Erickson said there remains a need for housing in the University Place area.

"I think the projects coming up together will be a good thing," he said.

Erickson said he hopes to complete demolition before the end of the year and start construction early next year. That could mean some retail could open as early as late 2017 or early 2018, with the apartments likely to be ready by summer of 2018.

Because the project proposes using TIF, it will have to go through public hearings before the city-county Planning Commission and the City Council. The first of those hearings is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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