Downtown living suits college students just fine
New London ― Connecticut College students had no idea what their apartments at the newly restored Manwaring Building would look like when they applied for one.
But they took a chance.
Students have now lived there for more than two months, inviting friends over for dinner, getting acquainted to living downtown and enjoying their spacious modern yet historic apartments.
Hannah Foley, of Arlington, Va., said the college announced the opportunity to live in new apartments downtown after she left campus last year. Foley said she and her roommate, Katarina Reyna, of Miami, Fla., were prepared to live in single dorm rooms near each other.
The two seniors entered the lottery for the apartments at the end of May but were placed on the waiting list. A few days later they learned a unit was available.
“I definitely feel very lucky,” she said. “It’s a nice living arrangement.”
Their apartment on the third floor consists of a fully equipped kitchen, high ceilings, a shared bedroom with separate closet space, washer and dryer, a main living space, bathroom and a dining area.
Foley said the apartment’s amenities allow them to have “real adult living.”
Reyna said it’s a big difference from living on campus, and that she likes having a dedicated work space on the kitchen counter or the dining table.
In May, the college’s Board of Trustees approved a partnership with High Tide Capital to lease most of the three-story Manwaring Building, a historic century-old commercial building at 223-229 State St. The 21-unit complex, undergoing renovation, was to accommodate 60 students and help alleviate space shortages on campus.
This was the first time Connecticut College students were offered to live off-campus and in dorms downtown. College and city officials expressed excitement at the prospect of students developing a deeper connection to the city and bolstering downtown businesses.
Construction ensued through the summer, and most of the apartments were ready by the time students returned for the fall. Construction continued for another week to complete the first-floor townhouses. Different to the two-person apartments, the four-person townhouses feature two bedrooms and two bathrooms, interior staircases with skylights and a study area.
Sam Maidenberg, who is from Orange, N.J., said he knew he wanted to live in an apartment-style living space for his senior year. He had spent the past three years in dorm rooms with communal amenities.
Maidenberg said students had no idea what the Manwaring Building would look like, but looking back it would have been his top choice. He said the rooms, kitchen and location offered a new opportunity.
Maidenberg said he and his roommate love to cook and have never had their own kitchen on campus. Now, they have canceled their campus meal plans.
“I enjoy it so much I try to rely on it as much as I can,” he said.
Maidenberg said students have long desired more apartment-style dorms. He said the existing apartment-style dorms on campus are limited due to the high demand, adding they are old and do not have a fully functioning kitchens.
“As a high performing liberal arts college, that has not been reflected in housing” he said.
Maidenberg said although the college made the move to downtown to accommodate the influx of a large incoming class, he is pleased the school is finally doing something to address those issues.
Students explore downtown
Living in Downtown New London has allowed many students to have access to the city like never before. During the COVID-19 pandemic, students said they were encouraged to not go off campus.
“Because so much of my time at Conn has been during COVID and not going into town, I haven’t done a ton of exploring,” Foley said.
Foley’s apartment has a big window looking out into State Street and she can walk over to the waterfront pier, Muddy Waters or Jake’s Diner down the street. Although there is the occasional loud seagull and motorcycle, Foley said it has been a blessing for the most part.
Reyna said she was almost never downtown before moving there. She said it was nice to open the window and look down during the recent We are New London Parade.
In his experience and talking with others, Maidenberg said New London feels disconnected from campus, especially for students without a car. Although he is busy with soccer season, Maidenberg said he has gone to the Washington Street Coffee House and taken a stroll, on a nice day, at the waterfront pier.
Business owners say they notice the students.
Misha Sherman, owner of the Washington Street Coffee House ― known by locals as “The Wash” ― said although there has always been a presence of Connecticut College students on the weekend, she has noticed more everyday traffic.
Sherman said it’s been amazing, and is the biggest change downtown since she started the business 10 years ago.
The manager at Jake’s Diner, Nikole Johnson, said she has noticed more students at the diner and that parents are coming to buy them gift cards.
Johnson said it gets busy on the weekends, and she sees college students coming in not just with their parents, but with friends and in groups. She said she is hoping business gets better and better.
City Director of Economic Development and Planning Felix Reyes said it's still too early to highlight any definitive trends.
“What we have seen is a group of college students that have blended right in and can be seen studying at our coffee shops, eating at our restaurants and taking part in cultural events,” Reyes said.
He said that is encouraging to see and city officials hope that becomes the new normal in the heart of the central business district.
Being off-campus has presented a challenge with transportation for students without cars, but they are finding ways to make it work.
A chemistry major, Reyna said she was anxious at first without a car, since she has early classes. But Reyna said she’s taking the public bus in front of Union Station ― a six-minute drive ― on the days her roommate can’t give her a ride.
Also in a two-person apartment, Nicolette Scola, of Braintree, Mass., said she sometimes runs into an issue with transportation, but she’ll often get rides from her friends or drive a roommate’s car.
Scola, a junior, said she has liked having a living area to hang out with friends and getting to see more of the city. She said she has walked to local businesses like “The Wash“ and Muddy Waters, adding the city provides an outlook to a possible future with city life.