Downtown Mansfield Plans Move To New Phase
By Richard Veilleux
Philip Lodewick doesn't mince words.
"If I was a developer," says Lodewick, chairman of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, "I'd jump at the opportunity to put some businesses in a town center where there's hardly any competition. And that's what we're looking at. There is, literally, almost no competition."
Members of the partnership hope soon to see some real competition, however - between companies eager to develop the site.
The partnership project is an effort to bring retail, commercial, and residential space to a 40-acre plot of land between the Storrs post office and Buckley residence hall. The plans gained momentum last month when the Board of Trustees approved a study that concluded the project would not have a significant negative environmental impact on the area. At the same time, the partnership began exploring with the Princeton, N.J.-based firm Looney, Ricks and Kiss the creation of a final municipal development plan for the site.
The firm would be expected within six to nine months to finalize the plan, which will identify the type of business and retail development the partnership should consider.
"I'm very confident the project is going to fly," says Elizabeth Paterson, Mayor of Mansfield. "We spent a lot of time getting the (Mansfield Downtown) Partnership set up, and we're carefully constructing by-laws and regulations. It's very important to do it right. We want the foundation to be solid."
The Partnership is a coalition of representatives of town and University officials, local businesses, and residents. Besides a 15-member board of directors, more than 150 local residents, including business owners and representatives of UConn student organizations, have joined the group as members. All believe the plan will be a boon to the community.
"This downtown core will benefit everybody," says Paterson. "It will grow Mansfield's tax base, create a destination for shoppers who will support the businesses, and give the University a town center that students and their parents can enjoy. It would also be an effective recruiting tool for the University."
Greg Muccilli, a senior majoring in political science and external affairs advisor for the Undergraduate Student Government, says it is a step in the right direction. "Anything that promotes the creation of a downtown area will be extremely beneficial to students," he says. "It will provide a lot more opportunities for us, and make UConn more of a community."
Lodewick, who earned his undergraduate degree from UConn in 1966 and a master's degree in 1967, says having a town center adjacent to the campus is an essential ingredient of being a great public institution.
"Our goal is to make the downtown a vibrant economic center - not a pass-through, but a place of destination," says Lodewick, who with his wife, Christine, also an alum, contributed the funds to build the Lodewick Visitors Center. "I went to UConn in the 1960s and since then, very little has changed in the town. Yet the University has undergone a dramatic transformation."
The 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 rerouting Dog Lane before it reaches Route 195.
The housing proposed for 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 David Woods, dean of the School of Fine Arts, is actively participating in that effort.
"We want the center to be an interesting place where students and residents will go and linger," 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," he adds.
The 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 an off-campus site that enriches the on-campus experience," says Thomas Callahan, assistant to President Philip Austin and a member of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership board. "If we do it right, the development of a town center will fulfill that need."