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A place of their own: UND students, allies say they want a university district

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news Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks Herald
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UND senior Nick Creamer got a ticket for violating Grand Forks’ noise ordinance one night after some friends wrestled on the lawn of his fraternity house. He got his other ticket after some friends hung out on the front porch of the house.

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It seems to him that such laws are selectively enforced in Grand Forks, he said.

“We are scared to even do stuff within reason.... you can’t win because we’re college students,” he said. “We have a target on our back because we’re young people.”

It’d be different, he said, if Grand Forks had some sort of university district, one where the rules or their enforcement are relaxed.

A former student body president, Creamer is joining other voices in the community calling for a place that students can call their own.

The city should have an incentive to do something, he said, because if students don’t feel at home here they’ll leave as soon as they graduate rather than contributing to the city’s economy.

City Council member Bret Weber said the city and university should work together to solve the problem because the current arrangement, or lack thereof, makes students feel alienated.

“It’s unfair because it suggests students aren’t members of the community when in fact they’re terribly important,” Weber said.  

A&E zone

The idea of a university district has been around for at least a year.

Bruce Gjovig, a member of the NV360 project to find ways to improve community engagement, proposed what he called an “arts and entertainment zone” where students could feel free to socialize outdoors.

“Obviously we’re a very family-friendly town, but we also want to be a college-student-friendly town and we have failed at that,” he said recently.

Aggressive enforcement of noise and alcohol ordinances have forced students into hiding indoors and only made drinking problems worse, he said. “Police enforcement in this area would be about making students safe and secure and less about noise and punishment.”

Gjovig suggested three neighborhoods that would be natural for an A&E zone: downtown, the 42nd Street corridor near the Alerus Center and the area north of UND, where many students live.

The UND Student Senate later passed a resolution calling for an area around campus to be turned into an A&E zone.

So far, it has failed to gain traction with university officials.

Corey Mock, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, said he thinks the city needs to work toward creating neighborhoods with their own identity, the way New York City has SoHo and San Francisco has the Castro District.

Such neighborhoods could be a transition toward a university district, he said. If not, there should be more public transportation options connecting campus to entertainment venues already downtown.

“We really missed out on the needed and desired commercial opportunities on campus,” he said. “They were forced elsewhere for arts, entertainment, groceries and general household items.”

Perception

But, before a university district can become a reality, many city residents would have to be convinced it’s a good thing.

“A lot of people envision that if you make an entertainment or university zone you’re going to create more disconnect between the campus community and the community and cause further conflict and animosity,” Creamer said. “The problem with that is most of the people that have that belief are envisioning some kind of ‘Animal House’ atmosphere. They think it’s all about booze.”

Mock said many different kinds of residents live near the university and they would worry that their neighborhood or areas nearby would get out of control.

It would take a lot of communication with Grand Forks residents to make a university district work and that people need to be reminded of the importance of the student population, Weber said.

“For every one college student who got a little loud on the weekend, there are dozens who are working in the community and studying hard,” he said.

UND response

University administrators are not eagerly embracing the idea of a university district at UND.

Susan Walton, UND’s vice president for university and public affairs, said the university must follow the North Dakota University System Master Plan when it comes to how it uses its space. And, she said, any entertainment district would require a partnership with families living around campus.

“I think there needs to be more conversations before we would go down that kind of road,” she said.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university has to carefully consider every option before acting.

At one point, he said, UND considered allowing a developer to build a hotel where the new School of Medicine and Health Sciences is now under construction. “I’m thankful we didn’t go down the road of putting that hotel there,” he said. “As we look at what we can do now, we also have to look, five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”

At this point, the university is looking more to downtown.

Walton, a member of the Downtown Development Association, said she would like to see more internship opportunities and more events downtown. She said she hopes existing partnerships with the city can create more opportunities for students to be engaged downtown through work and play.

 “I think the work of all these groups that already work together will produce even new and greater plans moving forward,” she said. “I don’t think it will be stagnant.”

Tell us what you think

What do you want to see happen with UND? Should the school have its own entertainment district or should the city make an effort to connect it with existing space downtown? Email your thoughts and ideas to reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@gfherald.com or tweet them using #UNDdistrict.

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Anna Burleson
Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact Burleson with story ideas or tips by either phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. More examples of her work can be found at grandforksherald.com.
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