Imagine a university town without a downtown. This was the case in Storrs, Connecticut, home to UConn, the state’s flagship university. Having no downtown made it hard to recruit students and staff, but even worse, there was no central gathering space for the university community or the townspeople to come together to celebrate, dine, shop, or take care of everyday needs, such as grocery shopping or doctor visits.
This all changed with the completion of Storrs Center in December 2016, when a brand-new, walkable downtown was delivered after six years of construction, preceded by five years in the approval process and a delay of the market crash. The downtown was built on the site of a former commercial strip highway next to the university. Public officials and townspeople had a big part in making this happen. Here are three keys to the transformation:
• Storrs Center is a result of a public/private partnership involving the Town of Mansfield, the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, master developer LeylandAlliance LLC, and its co-developer, EdR. The project was executed in five phases over six years and delivered 11 mixed-use buildings containing 626 high quality retail apartments; 140,000 SF of commercial space (retail, office, and restaurants); 42 townhouses and condominiums, and a half-acre town square as the public centerpiece.
• Storrs Center has quickly become the center of the community, enjoying a seamless connection to the town hall, recreation center, regional high school, and university. All buildings work together to create a well-defined sense of place in a livable public realm, centered on a square. Designed based on time-tested urban design principals, special design district zoning, and strong sustainability guidelines, Storrs Center is a vibrant, walkable downtown where people come together to live, work and play.
• Going from zero urbanism to five stories with ground-floor retail is a radical transition, but Storrs (in the Town of Mansfield) had a pent-up demand for a walkable center. The Town Square is an important public space for the town and hosts events like Winter Fun Week, Storrs Center Stroll, and the Celebrate Mansfield Festival—the latter began in 2004 in anticipation of the town square being built. In 2014, the festival moved to the actual square—once it was completed.
For more information on this project, go to www.storrscenter.com.