This past Sunday, the 13th annual Celebrate Mansfield festival took place in Mansfield Town Square. Mansfield Town Square, the open green area downtown and the surrounding restaurants and businesses, have grown substantially over the past few years. In addition to the opening of national franchise locations such as Bruegger’s Bagels and Blaze Pizza, new local businesses have opened such as H.A. Café and Tea More Café. This was in no small part made possible by UConn’s growing student population and prestige. Students’ increasing demand for such services, along with more outside populations coming to visit UConn whether for sporting events, lectures, or conferences, has provided an opportunity for development that many local businesses owners have taken advantage of. Downtown Storrs has come to represent an economic engine for the town, benefiting students and community members alike – whether they are on the business owner end or are also acting as customers.
Although it has been going on for 13 years, the festival’s relatively new location in Downtown Storrs has allowed the event to grow further. Located in the square, it has come to represent the coming together of the UConn student community and the rest of greater Mansfield. The UConn Marching Band performed and opened the Celebrate Mansfield parade, the Ballard Institute of Museum of Puppetry provided entertainment, and UConn athletes participated in a question-and-answer session, while other students perused different booths. The festival and its enthusiastic reception in Downtown Storrs is an example of the collaboration and type of partnership possible between UConn students and the Mansfield community.
Especially given some current debates over the nature of town-university relations, the Celebrate Mansfield festival was a great opportunity to showcase the benefits of a strong student-community partnership. This vision was integrated into the early strategic planning of Storrs Center, with the help of the university’s collaborative Town-Gown Committee. In 1969, the University Board of Trustees first approved plans to develop the area, although they were not realized. In 2001, the non-profit Mansfield Downtown Partnership was created, including representatives from Mansfield and UConn along with local business owners, to resume planning.
The growing success of the university certainly provided the impetus and made such vision possible. As Board of Trustees member Philip Lodewick reflected in UConn Today, “To see the town evolve is wonderful. It’s been a good collective effort on the part of the people… I think this downtown will cement the community within Storrs and Mansfield. From a standpoint of camaraderie, collaboration, and the ability to enjoy social interaction, it’s vital.”