After years of waiting, hoping and planning a downtown Storrs development, town, state and University of Connecticut officials said Wednesday (June 29) they were pleased to finally plunge shovels into the ground.
“There were some days when I thought this day wasn’t going to get here,” Mansfield Mayor Elizabeth “Betsy” Paterson said of the much-talked about, and sometimes maligned, project. “But here it is.”
Many of the speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony talked about the years of work going into the Storrs Center project, but Paterson said talks of a downtown area in Mansfield really go back to the 1960s.
She said she and another former councilman discussed the idea with consultants at a convention in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1998, and two years later those consultants submitted a report to the council.
And after more than a decade of planning, a large crowd gathered at the corner of Dog Lane and Route 195 to celebrate the groundbreaking for the $220 million mixed-use Storrs Center. The intersection is the starting point for the downtown project.
Wednesday’s ceremony means construction on phases 1A and 1B, which will combine for approximately 290 rental apartments and 69,000 square feet of retail space, is set to begin.
Philip Lodewick, president of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership’s board of directors, said the project has been a long process, but those associated with it continued to work hard.
“If you want to have a happening, you have to make things happen,” he said.
Lodewick also said there is “no precedent in the state of Connecticut” for the project, which will include private funding to cover roughly 15 percent of the cost.
The project has received grants to help fund a parking garage, intermodal center and other aspects, and state and federal officials credited Paterson, frequently called “tenacious” Wednesday, for helping to secure the funding.
Speakers also frequently credited Mansfield Downtown Partnership Executive Director Cynthia van Zelm with being the “glue” that held the project together. The town council created the partnership in 2001 to be the nonprofit organization overseeing the development, and van Zelm was brought in at that time.
But speakers also said the overall support from members of the Downtown Partnership and residents in general helped move the project forward.
Thomas Trubiana, vice president of Education Realty Trust, or EDR, said that support and excitement helped convince him to become involved as a developer.
“If that doesn’t get your motor going, I don’t know what does,” he said.
Master developer Leyland Alliance has contracted with EDR to construct and manage the rental units in the first round of construction.
Phase 1A, the smaller of the two phases, is slated to be open in summer 2012, while construction on phase 1B is anticipated begin next spring, with a summer 2013 opening.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the project will create construction-related jobs at a time when those fields are experiencing high unemployment rates.
“This is exactly the kind of project Connecticut needs to play a role in,” he said, adding it will also have many impacts on the surrounding community.
A group of local construction workers, meanwhile, was gathered across the street from the ceremony to advocate the hiring of local people for the project.
Malloy said Storrs Center will also “maximize” the value of the University of Connecticut and UConn President Susan Herbst agreed it will complement other ongoing projects at the campus.
“It is the missing piece,” she said.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, agreed, saying UConn is turning into a “world class” university but it ” needs the town center” to accompany many of the improvements.
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