The hum of machinery and other sounds of construction in Storrs Center are signaling daily progress on the ambitious development project, which is transforming downtown Mansfield with housing, businesses, and a myriad new services.
New businesses have been opening at a steady pace in Storrs Center, with more scheduled to open in coming months and throughout the rest of 2013.
The Oaks on the Square’s newest apartments – 195 units opening in late summer at 1 Royce Circle – are completely leased, adding to the 127 completed last year on Dog Lane. Work is also under way on a regional transportation center; and UConn’s Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and a branch of the UConn Co-op bookstore will move to Storrs Center this fall.
“It’s starting to evolve into the college downtown we’ve always envisioned,” says Cynthia van Zelm, executive director of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership Inc. “There are shops, restaurants, services, housing – the way things are turning out and the things to come are all very exciting.”
The Partnership coordinating the Storrs Center project is an independent, nonprofit organization, and also includes area residents and representatives from UConn and the Town of Mansfield. In 2004, the Partnership selected master developer LeylandAlliance LLC, to develop Storrs Center. Subsequently, they brought on EdR to own and manage the rental residential space.
Storrs Center’s first phase was completed in August 2012 on Dog Lane. Businesses began opening in April 2012 in three buildings there that comprise approximately 28,000 square feet of commercial space.
The last open space at 9 Dog Lane will soon be filled as Friendly Fire Game Center, currently in the Grand Union plaza on Route 44, moves to the spot by mid-June.
The apartments opening in late August are part of Storrs Center’s second phase, which also includes about 40,000 square feet of commercial space. Streetscape improvements have been underway throughout spring and summer, and landscaping and other amenities are being added to enhance its pedestrian-friendly design.
“Our goal as developer has been to do our best to realize the vision of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership and the general community,” says Howard Kaufman, managing member of LeylandAlliance. “I think we were selected to develop Storrs Center because we understood that vision and shared it.
“We love working to create great ‘Main Street’ communities,” he adds, “as we believe that such places positively impact quality of life. We think Storrs Center is doing just that, as it becomes a special place for people to gather and connect, to celebrate and enjoy wonderful times together.”
Many of the businesses open so far, or opening in coming months, are either owned by people with UConn links or have other connections to the University.
For instance, three alumni and childhood friends are opening a Japanese restaurant, Haru Aki Café, in the fall at 1 Royce Circle. Geno’s Grille, a restaurant owned by UConn Women’s Basketball head coach Geno Auriemma and his business partners, also opened this spring.
“It’s not just about Geno’s Grille,” Auriemma said of Storrs Center during the ribbon-cutting for the restaurant. “It’s about all of us changing the face of the Mansfield community, and we’re all working together to make that happen.”
That center will provide urgent care, orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, occupational medicine, family medicine, OB/GYN, and psychiatry services. In addition, a radiology suite and lab drawing station will provide services for area residents, UConn students, and workers.
UConn President Susan Herbst said at the Geno’s Grille groundbreaking that Storrs Center’s vibrancy, array of services, and community feel make it a wonderful neighbor to the campus and a draw for recruiting talented faculty, staff, and students.
“This complex is a dream come true for the University, and something we’ve hoped for and wanted for so long,” she says. “It’s been done beautifully and professionally and it’s a real asset to the region.”
Construction is moving so quickly that students returning from summer vacation will see an entirely different streetscape than the sights they saw before the spring semester ended in May. Time-lapse webcam shots set up by EdR show the progress on the residential properties, and the Storrs Center website is constantly updated with news about new tenants, initiatives, and activities.
Construction has also started on the Nash-Zimmer Transportation Center, which is expected to open in late autumn of this year in addition to the 660-space parking garage already available to guests.
The Transportation Center will be a multimodal hub where people can park their cars, store their bicycles, recharge electric vehicles, and participate in the car-sharing program that UConn began in 2012 with Hertz On Demand.
The Transportation Center will also be a central stop for local, regional, and interstate buses. So far, UConn Transportation Services and the Windham Regional Transit District have scheduled service to and from the center. Officials from the Mansfield Downtown Partnership hope that regional bus services, such as Megabus and Peter Pan Bus Lines, will also eventually add stops.
Site clearing is also under way for a Price Chopper grocery store for anticipated opening in 2014.
Van Zelm says the grocery store is eagerly anticipated by many in the region, and will be one of many vital assets in creating a vibrant college town that serves those already here and attracts visitors.
“It’s a great place to have lunch, to walk around, and cross paths with people you know, to take advantage of the amenities and the services,” she says. “It has a real community feel, which is what we’re aiming for.”