Quality of place matters in today’s economy. How a community looks, functions, and affects one’s quality of life is central to its economic well-being. People make decisions based on these factors in regard to whether or not they will frequent businesses or whether they will invest, work, go to school, or retire in a particular place.
The visionaries behind Storrs Center certainly believe this to be true. Once a worn strip of mostly aging commercial development with a smattering of newer venues, Mansfield’s downtown has been transformed during the past three years by Storrs Center – visually and economically. But even better, Storrs Center has provided a tangible center for a full downtown life for all those who touch it as residents, employees, or visitors. This is the vision first conceived by the Town of Mansfield, University of Connecticut and community leaders, implemented by the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, master developer LeylandAlliance LLC and co-developer EdR, and shared by the owner of the completed commercial phases, SCT Storrs Center I, LLC.
Construction on Storrs Center began in 2011; by the end of 2012, 16 businesses were serving customers, and 127 apartment homes in The Oaks on the Square were leased and occupied. An additional 23 businesses and 195 apartment homes in the Oaks were added in 2013. In 2014, 9 more businesses opened, along with 92 apartment homes in The Oaks. The new Town Square opened and immediately became the center of downtown life, with café tables and benches, live music concerts, monthly summer art fairs, and other community-wide events such as the 11th Annual Celebrate Mansfield Festival and Winter Welcome festivities. As of this writing, 32 businesses are open in Storrs Center, including those that opened in 2014 – Price Chopper; the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry; UConn Urgent Care; UConn Dental; Storrs Wine & Spirits; GBS Threading & Spa; CVS; Bruegger’s Bagels; and Jamba Juice. Over 200 new jobs have been created. The net tax revenue expected in the current fiscal year, after expenses, is approximately $200,000 as the developers of Storrs Center become the largest taxpayers in Mansfield.
The Nash-Zimmer Transportation Center opened in April, serving Windham Region Transit District and UConn bus riders. It also provides Peter Pan bus service to Boston, New York, Hartford and Providence. In addition to acting as a bus hub, the Center will also start providing accommodations this spring for bike commuters with its bike storage, lockers, and showers. Use of the Center continues to grow and is staffed by Storrs Center ambassadors who are available to answer questions, provide directions to the businesses in the downtown, and serve as a liaison with the bus riders and bus companies.
What’s next for Storrs Center? The Mansfield Town Square will be fully completed this spring with the addition of the pavilion roof, lights on the green space, trellises, and sculpture representing the rich history of Mansfield. During the summer, Educational Playcare will open, followed by 34,000 square feet of commercial space and 204 new apartments at The Oaks later in the summer. Master Developer LeylandAlliance will begin construction of its Main Street homes – the only townhomes and flats available for sale in Storrs Center.
The quality of the place has indeed spurred decisions regarding Storrs Center. The new downtown is a result of carefully designing a pedestrian-oriented master plan, with a mix of shops, restaurants, services, and housing. Architectural and sustainability requirements ensure that Storrs Center is attractive and implements green construction standards. The Town Square forms the “heart” of the downtown and numerous events and programs are scheduled to invite the community to participate and enjoy this new space. As a result, new businesses continue to open, residents are discovering new homes, and the community has an attractive and lively downtown in Storrs Center.