University towns face a unique challenge in fostering a successful downtown business environment. And perhaps none more so than the rural town of Mansfield, dwarfed by UConn’s massive Storrs campus. But the town is hopeful that a decade’s worth of work to construct an entirely new downtown will shortly come to fruition. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.
This is FroyoWorld, has been open in Mansfield for just five weeks offering a variety of frozen yogurts to hungry students.
“We have original tart, strawberry tart, vanilla bean, dutch chocolate….”
Manager Cec Amado says the store has had a phenomenal start.
“It’s been awesome. Yeah, I mean, there’s always a line, especially around 7, 8pm. Like, it’s pretty ridiculous.”
The FroyoWorld business started three years ago in New Haven, and the Mansfield outlet is now its thirteenth in Connecticut., and Amado says his boss, the founder of the company, Dennis Bok, always intended to come here.
“He was actually a graduate here in 2006, he graduated, I believe. And it was one of his visions, to always come here and start one up in UConn.”
Froyoworld is one of eleven new businesses open in the ambitious Storrs Center project, which is just celebrating the opening of its first phase, and outside its doors, the sounds of construction are all around.
Five more businesses will open shortly, leaving just two commercial vacancies still to be filled. Macon Toledano is from Leyland Alliance, the master developer on the project.
“It’s actually exciting that even at a time when the economy is struggling, we’ve had a very positive response from tenants who want to get in here and be part of this environment.”
The project also includes 127 new rental apartments, all of which are spoken for. In coming phases the project will add another 185 residential units.
“This is a civic space. This is where university meets high school, meets town hall, meets community center, meets post office, meets center of places to go eat, shop and play. It all comes together here, and the town square is effectively a symbol of that.”
Mansfield’s Mayor, Betsy Paterson is on the board of the public-private partnership that has fostered this ambitious and at times controversial vision.
“I’ve been working on this project since the first day. Since its conception. So I’ve been working on it now for probably eleven or twelve years. And to see it finally rise out of the ground is so exciting, especially when it’s coming out of the ground looking like what we’ve envisioned for ten long years.”
Paterson says the partnership has allowed UConn and Mansfield a fresh start.
“We are a university community. A university community involves students. We have worked together to try to mitigate the problems that we’ve had in the past, ie spring weekend, those kinds of things, and we’ve made a lot of progress. The beauty of this partnership is that many other partnerships between the university and the town have opened up.”
There’s been federal funding alongside the private investment in Storrs Center. Second District congressman Joe Courtney says he’s impressed to see apartments rented and businesses already open.
“And it shows that, despite a lot of skepticism, the demand for a huge project like this was there. UConn I think sometimes gets overlooked as an economic engine. This project I think really highlights the fact that it’s really an important part of Connecticut’s economy.”
More businesses, including a convenience store will open shortly, and phase two of the project which includes a branch of the UConn Co-op and the UConn Health Center is slated for August 2013.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.