A branding survey for Mansfield conducted in July reported that residents believe the University of Connecticut is beneficial to the town of Mansfield.
The survey, conducted by Dornenburg Kallenbach Advising (DKA), recorded approximately 1,200 responses from Mansfield residents and was intended to advise the Mansfield local government on how Mansfield should be branded to create growth in the town.
According to the survey, over half of Mansfield residents either attend or previously attended the university. When asked whether UConn was a “tremendous asset” to Mansfield, over 60 percent reported that they “strongly agreed.”
Mansfield Town Council member Elizabeth Wassmundt disagreed with the responses that praised UConn.
“The university is the bully in the room,” Wassmundt said. “I think the university takes advantage of the town.”
Mansfield Town Manager Derrik Kennedy, however, said he does not feel like the Town of Mansfield caters to the demands of UConn.
“There’s only so much that UConn can actually have influence over within town,” Kennedy said. “What we’re doing, that’s up to us.”
Kennedy praised UConn for the rapport it has built with him through meetings with UConn President Susan Herbst and UConn’s liaison with Mansfield.
“The relationship [between UConn and Mansfield] has been mainly positive,” Kennedy said. “The university has a tremendous impact on the town... 60 plus percent who are permanent residents of the town found that the university is an asset.”
The survey also asked why people visit Mansfield. Slightly less than half of those surveyed said that they came to Mansfield to attend a UConn sporting event, and a little more than 40% said they came to the town because they work at UConn.
Also mentioned was Downtown Storrs, the recent construction that has served to attract students and residents to the town’s center. A majority of respondents to the survey said they spent time in Mansfield to shop and dine at restaurants.
Wassmundt said UConn students have a negative effect on business in Downtown Storrs, especially the livelihoods of the business owners there.
“The university is the town’s industry. There is no industry but the university,” Wassmundt said. “For the few months that the university is not in session, businesses practically collapse around... the greater Storrs area.”
Wassmundt said the fluctuations in Storrs business owners’ revenues are due to inconsistent business from the UConn community and makes getting by a problem for store owners.
“Business drops dramatically. People running businesses here, now, they have got to base their income on a nine month period, not on a twelve month period,” Wassmundt said. “That’s very difficult to do because the expenses go on for twelve months.”
Kennedy said that these fluctuations in business are a way of life for the businesses in Downtown Storrs.
“You have businesses who have developed their business models around a nine month schedule, so that they can plan for and work through those other months, and then you have others that have not,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy attributed this to the fact that the Downtown Storrs area may not have fully adapted to the needs of its customers.
“The Downtown’s still trying to find itself,” Kennedy said. “There are going to be businesses whose model, or the business itself, or their service or whatever the case may be, just isn’t what the town, or the townspeople or the students are looking for.”
Wassmundt added that UConn doesn’t always have Mansfield’s best interests in mind, citing a daycare center that UConn supported until it was no longer necessary for the university, leaving Mansfield with the burden of the bill.
“The university wanted a daycare center, there was no daycare center for the employees, so the Town has ended up supporting the daycare center for many years,” Wassmundt said. “When UConn no longer needed the daycare center they dropped their support and then the town ended up with it.”
Kennedy said that he feels as though the town should still take UConn’s needs and opinions into account.
“I think it’s valuable to know what the university thinks helps them out, and what hurts them, I think that’s just good to know,” Kennedy said. “If we know that stuff then that only helps us make decisions better.”
Michael Enright, UConn’s deputy spokesperson for communications, says UConn has worked with the town of Mansfield to improve relations between students and citizens.
“I think over the years UConn has worked hand in hand with Mansfield,” Enright said. “But especially in the last fifteen years or so, [they’ve] really worked together to make the relationship a good one between the citizens and the students.”
Wassmundt called on UConn to take action and consider the town of Mansfield more when making decisions.
“I’d like to see UConn have some different priorities,” Wassmundt said.
Enright said UConn can help bolster the town and bring something new to the table.
“I’ve lived in college communities, or around college communities, [for] most of my adult life and I think a college really adds something to any community,” he said.
Enright says that the survey’s results show UConn’s students in a positive light, which is beneficial both to them and the town’s residents.
“I think it says overall that [UConn students are] a responsible group of people,” Enright said. “It’s a sign that the students that are being admitted to the university are not just good students but good citizens.”
Kennedy said that although UConn and Mansfield have had problems in the past, it is important to look forward.
“It’s always a challenge to get over any past negative instances between the town and the university,” Kennedy said. “I have a forward-thinking view, and from that perspective, of course UConn is a tremendous asset to the town.”
Sachin Menon is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.