Hundreds of students arrived for their first classes at UConn's new Hartford campus Monday, breathing life into an isolated stretch of the city.
Despite its ample restaurant and entertainment offerings, the Front Street district has remained segregated from busier parts of Hartford. But early Monday, teens donning UConn sweatshirts and backpacks filled the renovated Hartford Times building, stood in line at a recently opened Starbucks and breezed through the public library.
“Obviously, it’s very beautiful,” sophomore Nicole Horen, of Farmington, said. “The old West Hartford campus — it was a nice commute, but it definitely needed some updating. This is more innovative and beautiful.”
Horen said the campus, situated alongside city hall and several downtown landmarks, resonated with many students, especially those studying social work or business.
“I just like the city feel,” she said. “I know that’s really attractive to a lot of young people.”
Employees heading to some of Hartford’s major corporations paused to take in the flood of newcomers, who stood wide-eyed on the stone steps of the newly constructed buildings, reviewing course lists and getting their bearings.
Victoria Hansen, a sophomore from Windsor Locks, said her parents were fearful about her coming to Hartford.
“My parents were definitely afraid to send me here,” she said while waiting for her first class to begin. “But then I came here for orientation and we walked around this whole block up into Travelers, which is where my bus stop is, so I was pretty relaxed after a couple hours.”
Maribel Rodriguez, a freshman from New Britain, said the Hartford campus is what drew her to UConn.
“I didn’t want to go to Storrs,” she said. “So I feel like this campus actually made me want to come to UConn.
“It’s downtown, the bus is right there. I can park my car. That’s what I like about this.”
The campus was also enticing to students who live in Hartford, a brisk walk or a short bus ride away.
“If it was a little bit farther I probably would have considered a different school,” said Nashaly Alamo, a South End resident studying social work. “I live around here, so I want everything to be convenient.”
“I’m glad they moved over here, to try something different. We’ve been stuck in West Hartford for years and years. It brings more diversity.”
City and state officials last week cut the ceremonial ribbon on the new UConn campus, declaring the development a significant step in an effort to invest in Connecticut’s cities.
The $140 million project, supported by state funds, is also an attempt to link Front Street to other sections of Hartford.
Planners envisioned students and faculty circulating among several academic buildings, visiting restaurants and entertainment venues on Front Street and hanging out in a new Starbucks café at the campus bookstore.
Mayor Luke Bronin said the university makes connections among Front Street and city hall, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Bushnell Park. It builds on the momentum of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the renaissance in the former Colt firearms complex and new apartments downtown and on Capitol Avenue, he pointed out.
Bronin and others hope the school will boost Hartford’s image as a college town.
By late afternoon Monday, foot traffic began to let up a bit, though lines at a few local coffee shops remained steady.
UConn administrators reported no issues with parking or traffic. A heavy police presence was seen on campus, with cruisers parked nearby and security guards greeting students inside buildings.
Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, director of UConn’s Hartford campus, said the school faced typical first-day challenges — faculty and students finding their way around, getting acquainted with new classrooms and office space — but no major concerns.
“So far it looks really good,” he said. “A bunch of students mentioned to me how they feel like this is a real college environment for them.”
The Capital Region Development Authority has issued 2,500 key cards for students and staff. There are 760 parking spaces spread out among the convention center, the science center and the Front Street North Garage set aside, but not specifically marked, for faculty and students.