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Conn College students will soon energize downtown New London

An influx of youth, with all their vitality and exuberance, is coming to downtown New London this summer.

Connecticut College’s Board of Trustees’ recent approval of a plan to lease most of a historic State Street building for use as student housing is good news for the city, where downtown vacancies proliferate and businesses are struggling to recover from the pummeling they took during the pandemic. The Manwaring building, which is undergoing a historic renovation, will be home to 60 students when they return for the new semester in late summer.

Dash Davidson, a principal in Manwaring building owner High Tide Capital, told The Day the college’s decision will have the effect of “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,” he said.

We agree the anticipated five-year lease between High Tide Capital and the college will have an immediate positive impact for both the city and the college that is scrambling to accommodate an incoming freshman class that is bigger than typical by some 160 students. Beyond meeting a short-term housing need for the college and providing immediate occupancy for an important downtown building, however, the agreement also should be a promise for increased future involvement of the college in helping ensure the economic viability of its host city.

While there have been past discussions, promises, and some programming aimed at more closely entwining the college with downtown New London, Connecticut College has largely remained separate and removed from the economic struggles of its shoreline host city. The elite educational institution seldom crosses the socio-economic and geographic boundaries dividing it from the city with its high rates of poverty and social ills.

Different town-gown models have played out in other Connecticut cities. Most notably, Wesleyan University has invested heavily in bolstering downtown Middletown. Just one recent example of this is the university’s purchase in 2019 of the vacant former Middletown post office for use as office space for its finance and alumni relations offices. Wesleyan’s administration has long understood that the well-being of the institution is inextricably entwined with that of its host city.

So, too, has Yale University made huge financial commitments in the city of New Haven. In November, the city and university announced a six-year commitment that included an increase in the university’s voluntary annual financial contributions to the city. The agreement means Yale will contribute some $135 million over six years to the city. In addition, the university is partnering with the city to remake a downtown city street into a vehicle-free public space.

In New London, the last major push by Connecticut College to invest in downtown occurred about 25 years ago. President Katherine Bergeron seems committed to the college playing a bigger role in the city, and the new housing partnership is a great step toward beginning a new long-term partnership. The college’s leaders need look no further than Middletown and New Haven to find excellent examples of town-gown partnerships to emulate.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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