Residents weigh in on potential University Avenue projects

Study of the University Avenue corridor

Grand Forks residents on Thursday had the opportunity to provide input about potential projects that one day could be done along University Avenue.

The public forum was part of JLG Architects and the Knight Foundation’s study of the University Avenue corridor.

Earlier this summer the groups released a survey for area residents, and more than 1,000 people already have responded. JLG representatives presented the survey findings and spoke with residents about what they would and would not like to see along the road.

More than half of the respondents said they live within Grand Forks and more than three blocks from University Avenue. Many said they would like to see improvements made to lighting and landscaping; others said they would like to have more places to sit along the road.

The survey, which is still live, also asked users if improving the University Avenue corridor is a worthwhile public investment. More than half of those surveyed agreed it would be.

The goal of the study — funded and administered by 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.

The community input session had an open-house format where people could go to various areas to learn more about the survey and potential improvements, while also giving their own thoughts about what they would like to see along University Avenue.

Community members were offered green and red stickers, to put under photos representing various projects.

Many residents came to the forum to learn more about the survey and what JLG and the Knight Foundation might present to city leaders in the coming months.

Gerry Nies and his wife, Patsy, live along University Avenue. Both retired UND employees, the two have spent a lot of time traveling the corridor. Nies said he is “ecstatic” JLG and the Knight Foundation are hosting these sessions and conducting a survey before making any potential changes.

“It is very important to me,” he said. “I’m glad they’re looking at it and seeing what they can do.”

Nies said the corridor is an older part of Grand Forks, which does have its upsides, including all the trees and sidewalks along the road. Without those amenities the area wouldn’t be quite as nice.

“That’s one of the special parts about living along here — that we can live on this corridor,” he said.

Nies said there’s nothing that immediately jumps out that needs to be improved along the University Avenue corridor. While improved lighting would be nice in some areas, Nies said he wouldn’t want it to be too bright to the point it felt like daytime all the time. He also is concerned about how potential changes could affect parking.

Nicole Derenne lives near University Avenue and also expressed gratitude to JLG and the Knight Foundation for considering community input on potential projects. Derenne said she is open to learning more about potential projects along the road.

“I wanted to come here today to see what ideas were offered and to see what the possibilities might be,” she said. “I think, right now, gathering information is a healthy and useful activity.”

Jonathan Holth, community and client development manager with JLG Architects, said more events like Thursday’s session are being planned to give residents ample time to give input on the project.

“We hope to elevate the ideas of the people that live around here,” Holth said.

The University Avenue corridor will be receiving a facelift next year, thanks to a city mill and overlay project planned from Third Street to Columbia Road. Holth said the JLG study will work in conjunction with the road construction project to understand what can and can’t be done during the project.

In late fall or early winter JLG and the Knight Foundation likely will present their findings to the city; what the City Council does with the information is up to council members.