Hundreds to gather at the Longest Table along University Avenue

Event aims to strengthen connection between UND and Grand Forks residents

A second annual Longest Table event, to be held along University Avenue, aims to draw hundreds of Grand Forks residents to share ideas on how to grow the connection between UND and the city.

This year’s event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, beginning at the intersection of University Avenue and North 25th Street.

Organizers say there is room for 1,000 residents to gather in an attempt to break last year’s count of 717 guests. As of Monday morning, about 500 people had registered.

The community dinner, which seeks to foster dialogue and friendship, will feature an uninterrupted table spanning as much as 1,250 feet.

Organized by the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks & Region and the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, event organizers will gather residents in a “welcoming environment that purposely places people with friends they’ve yet to meet,” according to a press release.

Becca Cruger, an event organizer, said this year’s conversation will center around city priorities with guests being asked to envision what a revised corridor connecting UND to downtown Grand Forks could look like.

The goal of the study — funded and administered by JLG Architects, the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region, in partnership with the Knight Foundation — is to strengthen the physical connection between UND and downtown Grand Forks.

Having students as a part of the process is important, as well as the residents who live near University Avenue, according to Cruger. Student leaders will be table captains and will help lead conversations between community members.

“We’re still gauging priorities about the entire community, so it’s not only about the University corridor,” she said. “We knew that this master planning process was happening, so what better way to get people engaged than to actually set up shop on University (Avenue) and have people imagine it.”

University Avenue physically connects UND with the rest of Grand Forks, Cruger said.

“I think the town-and-gown relationship with UND and our community has continued to grow,” she said. “This is another step in that process, making sure that, from the very beginning when students first get here, they’re introduced to how cool Grand Forks is and then continuing to invite them, literally and figuratively, to the table.”

Meloney Linder, vice president for marketing and communications at UND, will be one of this year’s table captains. Linder said she is excited for the event’s second year of dialogue with residents.

“Both the city and the university are really committed to wanting to make Grand Forks one of the best town-and-gown communities in the country,” Linder said. “I think the Coulee to Columbia is a great example of what we can do when we work together. This is an example of building on a success to take it to the next phase.”

The school launched the “Coulee to Columbia” invigoration project in 2017, which includes three major renovation projects along the stretch of University Avenue spanning the English Coulee and Columbia Road. The project is a collaboration between campus leaders and the city.

After the Wednesday event, residents are invited to pitch an idea to enhance the Grand Forks community and potentially win a grant of up to $3,000 for the idea.

In case of bad weather, the Longest Table will be moved to Valley Middle School. If that is the case, registrants will receive an email the night before the event, which is supported by public and private community partners, including Grand Forks, UND, Hugo’s and Altru. Hugo’s will once again cater the meal.