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  February 4, 2002

UConn, Town Plan to Make
Storrs a Vibrant Center
By Karen A. Grava

Today, when people visit downtown Storrs, the stop is brief. They pop into Storrs Drug, fill a prescription and continue on their way. They walk over to Campus Florist, buy a bouquet and rush back to their office or dorm. Or they stop at Friendly's, have a quick snack and run down to the mall.

"Our goal is to make the downtown a vibrant, economic center - not a pass-through, but a place of destination," says Philip H. Lodewick, chair of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership. "I went to UConn in the 1960s and since then, very little has changed in the town.

A Place to Go
"But as the University is developing, and following its own strategic plan, there is an emerging consensus that Storrs needs a downtown core, a college town, or a New England village," he adds. "The downtown should be a place where students and residents can go, a center that can enhance living in the area for everyone."

Lodewick, BS '66, MBA '67, and his wife, Christine, contributed the funds for the Visitors Center on the Storrs campus.

The transformation of the downtown is part of a partnership formed by the town, the University and the business community called the Mansfield Downtown Partnership Inc. The project will focus on three areas of Mansfield: the downtown, the King Hill Road area, and the Four Corners area at the junction of Routes 44 and 195. An executive director, soon to be hired, will oversee the partnership.

Mayor Betsy Paterson says the downtown will be the first area on which the partnership will focus, because of its potential and its visibility. Detailed master plans for the area, which are being drawn up by an outside consultant, will be unveiled shortly, along with environmental impact and marketing studies, also nearing completion.

"Research shows that people spend very little time when they stop in Storrs. They come to do an errand and they move on. We would like to change that," she says. "We hope to create an environment where existing businesses can be more successful and new businesses will flourish."

The downtown revitalization will involve the property between the U.S. Post Office and Buckley Hall on the east side of Route 195. Also under consideration are the addition of a town green and the possibility of terminating Dog Lane before it reaches Route 195.

The University is considering constructing 500 much-needed beds for graduate students in year-round apartments adjacent to the post office, to increase the vitality of the area. In addition, offices and apartments to be privately owned and constructed above new or existing storefronts may also help increase activity in the area, Paterson says.

The plan envisions integrating what now exists with new buildings, similar to the approach the University has followed during UConn 2000.

Cultural Events
The housing to be added to the area is designed to provide a year-round market for the shops, and to permit such new shops as a grocery store to become viable. Marketing studies show that residents also would like cultural events to be a priority for the center, and Dean David Woods of the School of Fine Arts is already actively participating in the effort.

"We want the center to be an interesting place where students and residents will go and loiter," says Lodewick. "We hope an eclectic blend of restaurants, entertainment, and other cultural amenities, and retail shops will fill an important gap and help create a unique and special identity for Storrs.

"There have been a lot of plans in the past, but there has never been any follow-through. I'm committed to the implementation of this plan."

Lodewick adds that nearly all great public universities have vibrant college towns. "It is a tragedy that UConn is a great institution where there is literally very little to do outside the classroom that is not athletic. There is no core place for kids to go without getting into a car."

Drawing Students
The vibrant town business center will be an important recruitment tool for the University. Research with current and prospective students indicates that students look for an active college town as well as an attractive campus and high quality academic programs as an important part of their college experience.

"Students want opportunities for more diverse entertainment and shopping activities," says Thomas Callahan, assistant to President Philip Austin and a member of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership board.

The downtown renovations will be supplemented with the planned renovations to the Student Union, which will include retail shops, a movie theatre, a restaurant, and other student activity areas.

Implementation of the plans, which will require approval from the Mansfield town government and the University's Board of Trustees, could begin within two years.

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