89CT_Main_Street_Gala_2015_Allegra_Anderson_PhotographyAfter years of gathering public input and creating several successful private and public partnerships, Mansfield was able to accomplish the nearly impossible – create a pedestrian-oriented town center for the whole community.  This massive goal was accomplished by building public support for, and guiding the development of, the area adjacent to UConn’s campus, civic institutions, existing commercial properties, and across the street from the regional high school and Town Hall. The result: Storrs Center.

In recognition of their years of dedication and perseverance, The Mansfield Downtown Partnership was awarded the 2015 Award of Excellence for Planning.  Additional participants included  the Town of Mansfield, University of Connecticut, Local Residents and LeylandAlliance.

Step by Step: Planning and Building a Downtown from Scratch

Opportunities & Challenges:

Slide4For years, Town officials had talked about the need to create a commercial center for Mansfield which, through a quirky combination of historical conditions, sentiments of anti-development, and limited land ownership, had no discernible center.

Mansfield residents first supported the concept of a commercial district in the late 1990s. Residents had earned a reputation for being anti-development, however through several years and hundreds of public meetings, it turned out that residents were not opposed to all development – just bad development.

With the transformation of UConn’s main campus in Storrs, university officials began to recognize the need for a “college town” to attract top students and faculty.  The community and the university alike desired a real downtown, with a mix of residences, a variety of things to do, and places to meet friends and neighbors.

In the past, the “town / gown” relationship had been strained – and at times contentious. In 2001, the Town of Mansfield and UConn formed the Mansfield Downtown Partnership to be the leading agency to guide the planning and development of Storrs Center.  This Partnership is the key to the success of Storrs Center.

Highlights:

  • The Mansfield Downtown Partnership embarked on what would become a decade-long process of gathering community input: building public support; acquiring requisite approvals; developing a master plan, then a municipal development plan; and creating new zoning for a downtown to match the community’s vision of a welcoming place to live, to work and to gather as one community.
  • With the community’s vision clearly articulated, the Partnership selected LeylandAlliance, LLC as the developer. With its roots in New Urbanism, LeylandAlliance was the natural match for the community.
  • Throughout the course of planning, the Partnership and LeylandAlliance encountered several design-related issues, including zoning which did not allow housing; the site’s proximity to wetlands and a vernal pool; and limited existing public infrastructure (e.g. water, sewer, gas). The Partnership and LeylandAlliance collaborated to create a Special Design District: guidelines that included descriptions of different neighborhoods within the project and regulations on building heights and setbacks; site utilization; building materials and colors; signage types, and more.
  • Just as the Partnership and LeylandAlliance secured the final approvals for new zoning for Storrs Center, the national economy hit its lowest point since the Great Depression. Undeterred, work continued toward the creation of a new downtown.
  • The projected cost for the full Storrs Center development is $220 million. Through the efforts of the Partnership, the Town has received over $25 million in state and federal funding for the public infrastructure to support the development. The rest is privately funded by LeylandAlliance and its partner EdR, who owns the rental apartments, The Oaks on the Square.

Major Accomplishments:

  • Since the construction and leasing of Phases 1 and 2, the Town’s Grand List has grown by 4%, even with a partial seven-year tax abatement. The Oaks on the Square apartments have been 100% leased since opening in August 2012, as are the commercial spaces in Storrs Center.
  • 33 business are open in Storrs Center, with four more expected to open in early 2015. The businesses in Storrs Center have created over 200 new full and part-time jobs.
  • Throughout construction, there have been over 100 construction workers employed on site each day.
  • The success of Storrs Center has inspired Mansfield residents to think of development differently. The Town’s Plan of Conservation & Development now places an emphasis on targeted, dense development in specific areas, with residents pointing to Storrs Center as evidence of success for walkable, mixed-use development.

Congratulations to the Mansfield Downtown Partnership!