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Downtown New London building to house Conn College students

New London — The downtown is poised to welcome an influx of college students this summer as Connecticut College, expecting a record number of incoming students, extends its housing options to a State Street building.

The college’s Board of Trustees has approved a partnership with High Tide Capital to lease most of the three-story Manwaring Building at 223-229 State St. The 21-unit complex, which is undergoing a historic renovation, would accommodate 60 students and help to alleviate space shortages on campus.

In an email to the college community on Monday, school officials said their senior administrative team discussed the plan with faculty, students and staff on major governance committees, as well as with faculty and staff in the Holleran Center for Community Action.

“The campus conversation and feedback have been helpful and quite positive, even enthusiastic,” said the message, signed by President Katherine Bergeron, Dean of Students Victor Arcelus and Vice President for Finance and Administration Rich Madonna.

That feedback was presented to the school’s Board of Trustees on Friday during its review of the proposal.

“The overwhelming consensus from the Board was that this arrangement will help the College meet immediate student housing needs; offer a new dimension to student life; provide expanded opportunities for community engagement and academic programming downtown; strengthen our relationship with our host city; and contribute to the economic revitalization of New London’s historic center,” the message reads.

Dash Davidson, a principal at High Tide Capital, said he was excited about the prospect of filling the Manwaring building and at the same time "energizing downtown New London in a way that hasn't happened in a long time."

"It's a big step for Connecticut College and a big step for New London," Davidson said.

The last major push by Connecticut College to invest in downtown came under former college president Claire Gaudiani, who in the late 1990s was head of the city's development corporation and had proposed major investments in the downtown area. Downtown student housing never materialized.

New London Mayor Michael Passero said bringing college students into the downtown has long been a goal and would benefit the city economically and create a closer tie with the school.

"One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that the college seriously started looking at the need for off-campus housing," Passero said. "It's going to immediately benefit the vibrancy of our downtown businesses. It's the fulfillment of a goal we've been working on."

Arcelus said the school typically expects about 500 first-year students annually. This year, 660 students made deposits by the May 1 deadline to attend the school. The school has already created more space to accommodate the larger numbers on campus by converting locations such as lounges into bedrooms, but more space is needed.

College officials including Bergeron have kept in close communication with city officials about ongoing housing developments, keeping an eye out for opportunities to house students off campus and create “another connection between the campus and the city,” Arcelus said. Those conversation have included representatives from the Coast Guard Academy and Mitchell College.

“We haven’t been in a position to make that happen until this moment when we clearly don’t have enough room on campus to accommodate everybody,” Arcelus said.

The school has a four-year residency requirement, but for the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic it had allowed a small percentage of students to live off campus, to provide isolation space and to accommodate those students who were unable to study abroad because of travel restrictions. Students, though, were spread out in surrounding towns.

“As we looked at the upcoming year, we wanted to identify a strategy that would keep the students together as a community,” Arcelus said.

Bergeron has in the past spoken about a desire of the college to play a bigger role in the city. There is a national movement among urban colleges making investments in struggling municipalities such as Yale University in New Haven.

High Tide Capital owns the Manwaring and 133 Bank St., the former Jason’s Furniture, where a similar adaptive reuse project is in the works.

Davidson said he expects a five-year lease with Connecticut College. Terms of that lease were not made public. The college will offer the units in a lottery to upperclass students and doesn’t expect there will be a lack of interest. The cost to the students is incorporated in tuition fees.

High Tide Capital purchased the Manwaring Building last year and planned a mix of one- and two-bedroom units. The building also includes five two-level, 2,000-square-foot townhouse style units to the rear of the building. Prices, when the project was announced last year, were tentatively set at between $1,250 and $1,950 per month.

The school plans to use the one-bedroom units to house two students and four students each in the two-bedroom/two bathroom and the townhouse units. Each unit has a kitchen, living area and washer and dryer. The building also has a common area that could be used for student gatherings.

Conn said the building has room for a staff member to live on the premises, along with two Residential Education and Living student leaders.

There are two commercial spaces at street level, one of which is expected to be occupied by the college. Davidson said he expects to have a gym in the other. Conn has not yet announced its plans for the commercial space.

The building has a key card entry system and surveillance cameras that will be linked to the college campus. A pedestrian walkway links the building to a public parking garage. Along with a fixed bus route, Connecticut College said it is working with the city on how students can use the on-demand SmartRide shuttle service with costs covered by the college.

Brian Lyman, managing broker with Parker Benjamin real estate services and construction manager at The Manwaring, said the building was initially slated to be completed in October, but work is already well ahead of schedule. He said crews are prepared to fast track the construction and work extended schedules to get the work completed by mid-August in time for students’ arrival.

Lyman credited city staff with helping to streamline the approval and permitting process. The historic preservation of the building includes the removal and refinishing of hundreds of windows that will be reinstalled with new energy-efficient glass. The building, which was constructed in 1913 and features granite stairways and an elevator, was designed by Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, an architect for a number of notable downtown buildings that include the Dewart building on State Street.

Connecticut College has provided a link The Manwaring at www.manwaringct.com

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: The Crocker House was designed by architect Elbridge Boyden of Worcester, Mass. Information in an earlier version was incorrect.

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