Storrs Center moves closer to construction

Philip Langdon
New Urban Network

LeylandAlliance of Tuxedo, New York, has signed an agreement with Educational Realty Trust of Memphis that’s expected to result in construction of the first two phases of the Storrs Center mixed-use development adjacent to the main campus of the University of Connecticut.

Educational Realty Trust, which has built, developed, and owned hotels, collegiate housing, and mixed-use facilities across the US, will own and operate the housing in the first two phases of Storrs Center. The approximately 290 studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments will be within walking distance of the center of campus and will be constructed to Green Building standards, as called for in the Storrs Center Sustainability Guidelines.

Leyland, which has been working on plans for the Storrs town center for about a decade, will own and operate the ground-floor retail in the two phases. Those phases will cost a total of $60 million.

The overall project, including retail, restaurant, office, and residential along with parking garages and conservation areas, will total $220 million. The Trust calls it “one of the most ambitious public/private initiatives in the history of the state.” It will feature a mix of local merchants and national retailers. Spearheaded by the nonprofit Mansfield Downtown Partnership, which is composed of representatives of UConn, the Town of Mansfield, and the community, the project is designed to house a range of occupants, including young professionals, empty nesters, faculty, and graduate students.

Schematic design is being carried out by BL Companies, a national architectural and design firm in Meriden, Connecticut. Connecticut-based architect Patrick Pinnell has been asked to consult on facade designs. When design work and consultant studies are completed, the Trust and Leyland will be able to secure bank financing, which is the key to starting construction, said Monica Quigley, vice president for sales and marketing at Leyland.

The first phase is to be completed in 2012. The second phase is to be finished in 2013. UConn’s main campus has for decades been situated in a quiet, mostly rural area that conspicuously lacks a town center. In recent years the university, with support from state government, has been intent on raising its national standing.

A 20-year, $2.3 billion investment strategy is aimed at transforming a school that’s best known nationally for its prowess on the basketball court. Development of a lively, walkable town center could help make the university more appealing to high-caliber faculty and students, particularly during a period of renewed attention to community life and urban amenities. 

Philip Lodewick, president of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, described Educational Realty Trust as “a well-respected, financially sound company with deep roots in university town housing.”

The Trust is currently building a 20-story graduate housing facility with retail space and an adjacent garage at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Quigley noted that the Trust has also been chosen by the University of Texas System to develop a 16-story facility for staff, graduates, and young urban professionals in Austin, including housing, retail, and five stories of parking. The Trust recent completed the first phase of a project at Syracuse University.

Why has the Storrs project taken 10 years to get this far? Quigley said that considering the project’s size and complexity and the need for extensive public participation, “the present stage of development has been reached in a reasonable period of time.” She said obtaining federal and state funding for some of the public infrastructure required a lengthy, complicated process. It will be crucial to the project’s success, she said. More than $23 million in state and federal grants have been received, including $10.5 million for construction of the first garage.