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OUR OPINION: UND can learn from NDSU 's downtown campus in Fargo

On Tuesday, some 2,500 college students will start streaming into downtown Fargo, crowding the sidewalks and shopping in the stores. The young people are students at North Dakota State University, taking classes at NDSU's new downtown campus. Som...

On Tuesday, some 2,500 college students will start streaming into downtown Fargo, crowding the sidewalks and shopping in the stores.

The young people are students at North Dakota State University, taking classes at NDSU's new downtown campus. Some of them also are living in the university's new downtown housing complex.

And their numbers eventually are expected to swell to 4,000, marking a change that Fargo is welcoming as a terrific improvement to downtown.

Grand Forks can learn from Fargo's example.

UND also is weighing the prospect of opening a downtown campus; and if NDSU's experience is any indication, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Thanks to strong leadership, good planning and steady civic support, NDSU built and/or renovated buildings, relocated entire programs downtown and successfully addressed key issues such as parking.

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If Grand Forks brings the same elements to bear, a downtown campus likewise could be opened here to the benefit of both the university and city. And just as NDSU looked to other cities' experiences before making its move, the lessons NDSU has learned can help show Grand Forks and UND the way.

Last week, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead presented some of those lessons in a four-part series. Here are some highlights, especially those that seem relevant to a downtown campus of UND.

- One lesson is that the choice of programs to move downtown shouldn't be made at random. For example, NDSU downtown now is home to the departments of architecture, landscape architecture and visual arts. The programs are housed in a renovated warehouse -- but not just any warehouse: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Northern School Supply Building underwent a top-to-bottom, $9 million renovation of 70,000 square feet.

The renovation was scrupulously eco-friendly, letting NDSU present such legitimate boasts as "NDSU Downtown is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction-renovated building in North Dakota."

And the impressive new space not only attracts students, but also lets up-and-coming artists and architects learn in an urban downtown, Fargo's best environment in which to study humanity's impact on the built environment.

The College of Business and departments of agribusiness and applied economics also have moved downtown. Why those?

"There will be networking opportunities, and students will be able to interact with businesses," The Forum reported.

"AgCountry, a major donor for the facility, plans to hold some business meetings in Barry Hall. The North Dakota Trade Office also will occupy space in the facility, opening up new opportunities for students. ... Students will feel like they're in a global business environment, with a digital world clock and stock tickers on the wall."

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- NDSU and Fargo included student housing in their downtown mix, and the first downtown student-housing project has opened. About half of the 104 apartment units in the new Cityscapes complex have been rented, The Forum reported. The complex is trying for a secure, "college town" feel: On its ground floor, it'll feature a college bookstore, coffee shop, fast-food and sit-down restaurants, a police substation and possibly a fitness center and combination grocery store/convenience store, a project executive told The Forum.

- Parking is a serious issue on every college campus, especially one that's located downtown.

To ease the crunch, Fargo has added a new bus route and bought five new buses, with NDSU's help in both cases. For example, the university is paying close to a million dollars to the Fargo bus service this year in return for the new bus service and student, faculty and staff bus passes.

The school also paid the local share of five new buses, The Forum reported. Each bus cost about $354,000; the federal government paid 83 percent of that and NDSU paid the rest.

As a result, buses will run between NDSU's main and downtown campuses about every 12 minutes, the newspaper reported.

NDSU and Fargo have succeeded. UND and Grand Forks can, too. Let's learn from our counterparts' experience and create a vibrant downtown campus of UND.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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