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Downtown Development Association works to strengthen bond between UND, community

A new event this year includes a Town Square pep rally scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 28, kicking off UND's Homecoming Week.

Grand Forks Street Fair 2022 C.jpg
Attendees of the annual Grand Forks Downtown Street Fair mill about the booths on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022.
Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — UND students are back for the fall semester, and this year are seeing first-hand the recent efforts of the Downtown Development Association to further strengthen the bond between the campus and the community.

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Andrew “Blue” Weber, president and CEO of the Downtown Development Association, said UND students coming to Grand Forks offer “the opportunity to hear what they see as the future of our community.” The Downtown Development Association has specifically placed a heavy focus on “fostering relationships and creating a clear line of communication with UND Student Government.”

Weber says the student-led organization is “a great resource as well as an easy way to keep a pulse on how students are feeling about the community.” He believes this relationship helps to foster “a city that grows with the vision of all ages” and that there must be an emphasis “to have everyone at the table to partake in that process.”

In a recent interview with the Herald, Weber said a notable change the organization took this year was the change of dates for the Downtown Street Fair, which this year took place Aug. 19-20 and aligned with the university’s move-in weekend.

Though “it can be a busy weekend on campus for the freshman as they are just learning what UND is about,” Weber believes it is key to offer returning students community events off campus.

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“The street fair is also a time when we like to show families of those students that downtown is not just a 21-plus location, but a place that holds opportunities for all ages,” Weber said.

After moving the dates, downtown officials noticed “an incredible uptick in patrons … from both the students and alumni.”

Also new this year is an event that will further strengthen the connection between UND and downtown Grand Forks, Weber hopes. On Wednesday, Sept. 28, will be a pep rally in Town Square, hosted by the Downtown Development Association. The event is intended to kick off UND’s Homecoming Week and will include a DJ, the Pride of the North band and other special guests.

It is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.

“This event is to really give students a rallying space in our downtown to call their own,” Weber said.

The Downtown Development Association received “significant funding” from a Lowe's Hometown Grant to “bring extra life to Town Square and give all UND students a place to congregate without the major focus on alcohol.” They are hoping to install yard games, turf and extra seating to accommodate the event.

The DDA has also done a variety of smaller-scale programs focused around student engagement, including Forkin’ Fun, 20/20 Vision, Nite at the Obelisk and others. Weber said that alongside events, the DDA works to create other connections with UND through programs like Grand Rides Bike Share, the downtown ice rink and Boathouse on the Red.

The Grand Rides Bike Share program seems particularly popular among students, as almost 80% of the 2021 users attended UND.

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The goal is to create lasting connections between UND students and the community, according to Weber and Becca Cruger, director of workforce development with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

“It’s so important to connect with UND students so they don’t leave their college years thinking there’s nothing to do in Grand Forks or there’s no engaging careers,” Cruger said.

To help combat this, the EDC launched an internship program in partnership with the UND Center for Innovation, known as InternGF. An average of 30 students are matched with local internships through the program annually.

The Economic Development Corporation also launched their Accelerate 2 Industry program in partnership with UND’s Graduate School to provide opportunities for graduate students. The program is aimed at exposing master’s and doctoral students to the career opportunities within the Grand Forks.

In recent years, the EDC has placed a greater focus on how to connect online students to the community, mainly through online sessions. Cruger emphasized the economic opportunity that exists for UND graduates, saying the city could “find a career for every degree-holder from UND.”

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