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Development of vacant UND land could add to student experience

Workers from Florian & Sons Excavating carefully stack pieces of the Wesley College sign from the peak of Robertson-Sayre Hall into a pile on the UND campus on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
A portable mailbox and other construction materials stand on the empty lot that was once Corwin-Larimore Hall at UND on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Torn-down buildings and empty lots have become a familiar sight along University Avenue at UND, but talks are in the works about what the street could one day look like to add to the student experience.

Eight buildings were razed along University Avenue in 2017, with an additional six already or set to be torn down in 2018, leaving many vacant lots around campus.

Mike Pieper, facilities head at UND, said the vacant lots are a mix of UND and private property, but said that there’s currently no specific plan for the vacant lots.

“With these vacant lots, there’s no plan to say ‘This is going to be there tomorrow or a year from now,’ ” he said. “But it lends to development that will enhance the student experience.”

The university is searching for an adviser that would not be on any development team, but would help the school solicit responses from developers about what could be done with the empty lots, Pieper said.

Erik Hanson, student body president, said students want to find more ways to create “synergies” between the Grand Forks community and UND, which would include incorporating more local businesses with the university, creating private-public partnerships and new developments around campus.

For example, Hanson said, right now, there aren’t many restaurants near campus, other than UND Dining Services, leaving students with few choices and limited hours for food.

“So, we’re trying to figure out how we can make it still work for UND’s dining so they’re not struggling to compete but also make it so students have options and have more opportunities to get food when they want it,” he said.

The school launched the “Coulee to Columbia” invigoration project last year, which includes three major renovation projects along the stretch of University Avenue spanning the English Coulee and Columbia Road. Upon completion, the overhaul, as originally planned, would draw renovations totaling an approximate $189 million — to be funded mainly by private donations and possibly a student fee increase — for Memorial Union, Gamble Hall and the Chester Fritz Library.

Part of the Coulee to Columbia project includes plans for a major renovation of Memorial Union, a project that would have been undertaken entirely with student fee dollars.

Hanson said while they are in favor of the project the initial “size and scope” of it was beyond what the student body could support.

“We basically said if we’re going to support it the only way that we’re going to do it is if we can combine it with either private-public partnership or private development across from (Memorial Union), which I think could lead to some synergies,” he said.

Hanson said they would like to possibly see a mixed-use building on University Avenue with restaurants and retail stores on the first floor, potential student centers on the second floor and possibly apartments or student living on the top floor.

“That would really create a living community in which students can feel like they can be on campus, while still getting all the things they need in their daily life,” he said.

UND is also seeking to sell Ray Richards Golf Course, which the school shut down in November 2016 and features 70-plus acres of land south of UND's main campus along DeMers Avenue and South 42nd Street. The university is seeking authorization from the State Board of Higher Education to sell the course, which was donated to the university in 1962.

Peter Johnson, a spokesman for the university, said who might buy the land and what they would do with it is not known at this time.

Connecting corridors

Future road work is also planned on University Avenue.

Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator, said a mill and overlay project is planned for 2020 that would stretch from downtown Grand Forks through UND’s campus. It has been about 10 years since road work was done along that area.

The city has submitted applications to the North Dakota Department of Transportation for urban road grants along University Avenue. The grant would go toward “renewed street-scaping,” which would include new lighting, improved signage and updating the medians along the road, among other things, Feland said. The city hopes to complete those projects in 2019 ahead of the mill and overlay project.

Feland said he believes the work being discussed at UND about mixed-use development along University Avenue will complement redevelopment in downtown Grand Forks, as well as redevelopment along DeMers Avenue.

“The goal is really to connect those two things in a really positive way,” Feland said, adding that the university and the city have already been working together on new bus routes, as well as possibly taking over the school’s campus bus service.

“There’s a lot of things going on between the city of Grand Forks and UND to provide better connections,” he said. “I think there’s a renewed feeling that our futures are tied together. We need to be an attractive city, we need an attractive university. We need to see connections between the two.”

Hanson said it’s important for two of Grand Forks’ major areas to be accessible and linked together in some way.

“We really have two main streets in Grand Forks, the downtown stretch and the campus stretch, and with those we need to try and find ways to make them accessible,” he said.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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