2018 Candidate Questionnaire June Election

The Downtowners Association of Bismarck sent 3 questions to candidates regarding their ideas and views on Downtown Bismarck.  Mayoral and City Commission candidates were asked the same three questions (listed below).  The answers are in alphabetical order by last name.

The Downtowners Association does not formally endorse candidates.


1.Downtown Bismarck produces the highest value per acre in all of Bismarck-Mandan, what is one of your strategies to keep Downtown producing for the community?

2. What are your top 3 priorities or projects you’d like to see for Downtown Bismarck in the next 4 years?

3. What is your view on Governor Burgum’s Main Street Initiative? https://www.mainstreetnd.com/

Two candidates are challenging incumbent Mayor Mike Seminary.  Seminary is running for his second term as mayor having before served as a city commissioner. The challengers, Pastor Isaac Afoakwa and Steve Bakken’s answers to the Downtowners Questionnaire are below:

Pastor Isaac Afoakwa

  1. A healthy business climate is one of the strategies that will keep downtown Bismarck – Mandan producing for our twin city community. This can be measured by standard indicators like unemployment rates, job growth, business starts, tax revenue, reduced inequality, and more. But a healthy business climate also means a civically engaged business community. With this we can make Bismarck – Mandan the land of innovation, where amazing companies are launched to grow our local economy, create jobs and attract both national and international entrepreneurs. It is also the home to many smaller, critical businesses that often provide the backbone of so many neighborhoods gathering spots and to sustain this, I will engage our local businesses large and small to build a healthy business climate in our twin City.

2. My top areas of interest and priorities for downtown Bismarck are to create a healthy climate for business and entrepreneurship, affordable housing, homelessness, reduce commercial, property and businesses taxes, transportation, create jobs and favorable labor laws. The City plays a critical role in supporting business growth and economic development. Ensuring our City has clear rules and regulations for business to follow is key to allowing businesses to have predictability. We must also have strong infrastructure (roads, transit), a strong education system (K-12, higher education, apprenticeship programs, career training), smart land-use and taxation policies, and a laser-like focus on the basics necessary for a well-run and highly-functioning city. The reality today is that other cities, states and countries are competing hard to attract businesses. We must strive to be the place companies and their workers want to be. My approach is to bring people together to solve tough problems. This includes our diverse businesses in Bismarck-Mandan. Voices of business leaders, small business owners and workers are critical in any conversation. We are not going to solve our big challenges discussed above unless we are working collaboratively. Our successes will not just happen by accident; a vibrant, growing economy that includes everyone requires a leader that is willing to bring people together, listen but then be able to make tough choices.

3. The Governor’s idea is great, however, my concern is about collaboration. Did/has he consulted with downtown business owners about how this initiative will impact their businesses and livelihood? and listened to their advises on how to partner and work together to make downtown more vibrant and attractive? if there is/was such consultation, I would support this initiative. I will not support a plan that will displace and misplace businesses and take away the originality of our downtown.

Steve Bakken

  1. One of the major hurdles to businesses and the downtown experience is accessibility. Parking issues, traffic flow, connectivity to other areas of the community and their amenities all create a barricade between downtown and the rest of Bismarck-Mandan. I would like to work towards better integration between the various experiences around our city and a prosperous, vibrant downtown.

2. Better connectivity and accessibility between downtown and the rest of our community. A developed waterfront which connects to and can accentuate downtown. Increased housing opportunities, both rental and ownership.

3. There are aspects of the Main Street Initiative which make sense for our community and there are areas where it goes against the core quality of life afforded us as residents of North Dakota. Personally, I love living in Bismarck because my family and I are afforded the opportunity of space. We don’t choose to live in Fargo or higher density communities because that is not how we choose to live and Bismarck has opportunities for everyone’s preference.

Bismarck City Commission (2 seats open, 4 candidates)

There are 4 candidates running for 2 Bismarck City Commission Seats.  Nancy Guy (incumbent) is running for her second term.  Challengers are Beth Nodland, Greg Zenker, and Mark Splonskowski. Below are the views of the candidates who responded to the questionnaire in alphabetical order by last name.


1.Downtown Bismarck produces the highest value per acre in all of Bismarck-Mandan, what is one of your strategies to keep Downtown producing for the community?

2. What are your top 3 priorities or projects you’d like to see for Downtown Bismarck in the next 4 years?

3. What is your view on Governor Burgum’s Main Street Initiative? https://www.mainstreetnd.com/


Nancy Guy

  1. The Renaissance Zone program has been the most successful strategy for revitalizing our downtown. With over 450 jobs created, more than 50 new businesses started, more than 25 businesses expanded, and more than $52.5 million in investments, we’re seeing new businesses open almost monthly. There are about 200 eligible parcels left to participate in the program before the current extension runs out in three years. State law does allow for multiple extensions to the RZ program but no city has gone through that process yet so we don’t know the likelihood that another extension would be successful. It is critical that we stay focused on applying the program at every opportunity – we just can’t let up on the effort.

2. In order for downtown revitalization to be successful in the long term, we need more housing in the Downtown Core and Downtown Fringe. We are at a bit of a disadvantage in that we have few vacant buildings or warehouses that can be converted to housing so we’ll need to look at infill projects like 100 W Main and the Galleria project by the Radisson. New housing needs to be a mix of market rate, workforce housing, and condominiums – at a variety of price ranges with appeal to different renters or buyers. One way to add housing to downtown Bismarck is to connect the Downtown Core to Kirkwood Mall with mixed use development utilizing retail and commercial space on the ground floor and housing on the floors above. This connection would also serve to increase the customer traffic to existing businesses and help boost the tax base for the entire city. The final connection between the Downtown Core and Kirkwood Mall is an anchor convention hotel located near the Bismarck Event Center (BEC). The hotel would help bring larger meetings and events to the BEC which in turn increases customer traffic to the retail stores and restaurants in our downtown area, and all of Bismarck. The public plaza in front of the Depot building would be such a terrific addition to our downtown – kind of like icing on the cake. It could be the hub of downtown, drawing families and downtown residents to shop, eat, relax and recreate in the heart of the city.

3. I was delighted to see the pillars of the Governor’s Main Street Initiative because Bismarck has been working on those strategies for many years. We have been working on the Healthy Vibrant Communities pillar for all the years I have served on the Commission. The Main Street road diet project has made downtown more walkable and safer, and we continue to concentrate on mixed use buildings and infill projects like 100 W Main, the Broadway Condominiums, and the Galleria project. Bismarck is fortunate to have an excellent school system that has been working toward educating our 21st Century Workforce for many years. Our business community has been working with Bismarck Public Schools, Bismarck State College, United Tribes Technical College, and University of Mary to train young people, get them working in Bismarck and wanting to stay in Bismarck to start their career and raise a family. It is well documented that all three of these higher education facilities have a huge, positive economic impact on the Bismarck. We began discussing our Smart Infrastructure shortly after I joined the City Commission four years ago. The Mayor created the Infrastructure Task Force to examine how to fund arterial street development and the Special Assessment Task Force, which I chaired, to examine how we use special assessments to fund street maintenance. I co-chaired the combined task force which crafted an infrastructure funding and maintenance recommendation to the City Commission. The result is a recommendation for innovative, sustainable funding for 21st century growth and maintenance using 21st century funding tools. In short, there’s always more to do and efficiencies to find but I think Bismarck has a really good start on all the strategies in the Main Street initiative.

Beth Nodland

  1. As the owner of a commercial downtown building, I am a tax payer of some of the highest value-per-acre property in Bismarck. I understand the importance of the Downtown tax base to the success of the entire city – for example in covering costs of those areas where the tax base isn’t dense enough to pay for ongoing city-services costs. I believe in the future of all of Bismarck. I have invested to improve thousands of square feet of what was previously unusable, vacant downtown office space, that is now state-of-the-art commercial space. I will continue making additional improvements that will generate tax revenue for the city, add to the historic character of downtown, provide community gathering space, and foster small businesses. If elected, I would be the only business owner, and the only Downtown property owner/tax payer on the city commission. We cannot go backwards. We must manage growth wisely. It is important that the recommendations of the recent task forces and commissions studying our challenges move forward – to address homelessness and addiction, to address specials, to address property taxes, to address the funding for the infrastructure needs of the entire city. The city commission needs to evaluate those recommendations and put policies in place to implement them.

2. The city commission must continue to work with non-profit organizations and private partners, along with county agencies, through public-private partnerships, to address the homelessness and behavioral health issues that challenge Downtown Bismarck. This is a priority for our city. Many of the projects I’d like to see are important across the entire city, while they impact the Downtown. For example I’d like to see the city engage in updating its strategic plan, in conjunction with the updated Master Growth Plan and other agency and metropolitan area planning efforts. We need a new map so that we can go forward managing smartly. I would like to see downtown projects such as Depot Plaza project completed, or another Commons area, in time for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Bismarck, (2023) so that family-friendly outdoor community gatherings can be held in Downtown Bismarck. I would see that the City commission and Bismarck’s downtown capitalize on this opportunity to promote Bismarck

3. I have been “walking the talk” of the Governor’s Initiative for years, and I’m well down that road. I’m a proud Bismarck native, and my husband and I chose to raise our family and start three businesses here because we recognize Bismarck’s strengths and capitalize on them for our regional work. When we were looking for a location for our businesses, we purposefully decided not to buy or build on the edge of town, (which probably would have been more convenient for our fleet of field vehicles and field equipment.) Instead, after sound planning and working with community economic development resources, we chose to invest $2.5 million dollars (so far) in the renovation of a gem of an historic downtown building that includes mixed-use commercial space for four businesses: a professional consulting firm, a coworking space, a restaurant, and a bakery. It is a work-in-progress. As historic preservation professionals, we are dedicated to balancing our city’s and our region’s progress with respecting its unique past. Since its opening, I have used our coworking space, Juniper Workantile, to promote entrepreneurism and to support Bismarck’s startup community. The Workantile has become a community gathering space that brings people downtown, such as seniors for events like book clubs and retirement parties, young professionals for meet ups, and youth for pre-prom banquets and team photos. I offer our space to non-profits for their board meetings, to multi-level marketing women to host pop-up micro retail events, and I welcome large businesses headquartered on the edges of town, such as MDU and the U of Mary to conduct their strategic planning retreats and training in the vibrant atmosphere of downtown Bismarck. For my own company, Juniper, based in Downtown, I continue to create good 21st century jobs that pay livable wages and provide cutting-edge technology to highly-skilled employees, whom I have to recruit and bring to Bismarck from all around the country, (after I try to find someone local, first, of course.) To do our work, I use gigabite internet technology and other cutting-edge technologies to keep my small business competitive in an increasingly competitive regional and nationwide market. In all I do, I emphasize Bismarck’s strengths and always encourage people to get involved in the community. These are themes touched upon in the Main Street Initiative. I walk this talk every day. On a small scale, I have “activated” my own alleyway with public art, beginning with a mural size blow-up of Shane Balkowitz’s “Murderer’s Gulch,” which was a downtown community-based photography project which I helped to promote and that I illuminate for 24-hour, year-round viewing of alley art. I purchase and hang original artwork by Bismarck artists throughout our space. To encourage another kind of “quality of life,” I pay for a commercial recycling dumpster in the alleyway that is covertly (but well-intentionally) filled twice a week by neighboring businesses in a block radius. We need to promote commercial recycling. I am walking this talk, too. I am a founder and leader of an Alliance to save Bismarck’s neighborhood schools, specifically dedicated to highlighting the importance of walkability, balancing the costs and cultural impacts of building larger schools on the edges of town, and encouraging the renovation and reuse of our existing school structures. I have worked closely for years with experts of the BPS school district to develop INCLUSIVE educational strategies, including a highly-praised and successful replicable model to address behavioral issues. Recently my husband and I launched an endowment for the BPS Inclusive Sports and Recreation program that inspired a community-wide giving campaign. My feeling is: if our community isn’t going to be inclusive, it isn’t going to be innovative. I have sponsored a S.T.E.A.M fair at a Bismarck elementary school and participated in quite a number of student, teacher, and career-counselor training workshops to promote forward-looking, home-grown Bismarck careers in the sciences. We need our students to know they can follow their love of the sciences and find good jobs in Bismarck. I have hosted college-level interns and business start-ups to help them see how small businesses are vitally important to Bismarck’s health. I think you can see I am dedicated to building the kind of community that I want Bismarck to be for everyone. While I have not been one of the folks out front preaching that Bismarck should get on board the Governor’s Initiative, I have been a champion, practicing its vision for the community. Actions speak loudly, to me. While I continue to invest in the vitality of Downtown Bismarck, I want this vision to benefit every street in town. If I am elected, I would put the Initiative’s core themes into action on the commission by looking at our city policies to see which help or hinder success across all of Bismarck, and I would manage for fiscally and culturally responsible growth, across all of Bismarck.


Greg Zenker

  1. In my opinion, Bismarck’s Downtown is vibrant. This was mostly driven by the private sector, and I feel that should continue. The City should help market how vibrant our Downtown is, so it can help attract new investors to keep the Downtown progressing.

2. (1). The City should maintain streets and sidewalks to help keep the Downtown looking fresh and clean. Investors have spent a lot of money on their properties and should expect that the City will maintain sidewalks to keep the Downtown walkable. (2). As stated on the first question, the City should help market our Downtown. Ensuring that the proper signs and signals are installed in a timely manner, along with using social media to keep the public updated to current Downtown events. When all sectors of the city are vibrant, all of the citizens of Bismarck win! (3). I would like the new mix used project that was proposed at the 5-22-18 City Commission meeting to move forward. This will bring 40 new living units to Downtown for those citizens who want the walkable lifestyle, and clean up an eyesore that has been around for many, many years. Again, another project driven by the private sector. This will lead to other needs that Downtown will have to provide, one example would some type of grocery store. Could you imagine in four years that they will be conversations of a grocery store in Downtown Bismarck?, I can.

3. I like the idea that it is a collaborative effort for state and cities to share ideas are good, I also like the efficient use of space. Bismarck’s Downtown still needs to have its own identity and currently I feel we have been able to keep that identity. Again, driven by the private sector meeting the needs of the citizens of Bismarck.