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She Works to Make Downtown Bismarck a Destination

by Kimberly Singer

Bismarck Downtowners Association Executive Director Dawn Kopp, ‘99 BSC alumna, has been in her role for 10 years now. Around 2008 she helped create a walking map of Downtown Bismarck. It featured 25 places. The map is updated annually, and this year 70 shops, restaurants, galleries and other destinations are included.

“It’s really stunning what we’ve seen happen in Downtown Bismarck, and it creates such a sense of pride to be, at least in some way, a part of the movement of revitalizing downtown.”

Her dream at the Downtowners is to help make other people’s dreams a reality. “I really want to be more involved in growing the local industry and fostering people’s dreams and hopes, and creating what they want to see as an entrepreneur or as a business person.”

Some of Kopp’s passion for Downtown Bismarck comes from growing up in the area. She’s originally from Mandan. “We would go to the Dakota Twin Theatres and see movies there. It was always just so exciting to come downtown.”

Kopp said she’s most proud of what she sees take place outside of her office after 5 p.m. every day.

“Seeing so much more activity. Period. Those first couple years that I worked here, you could tell when the clock was about 5:04 p.m., because all the cars left the street and that’s how it remained for the night until you’d see the business employees come back in for the next business day.

dawn“Now, often we hear people talk about how we need more parking downtown because they can’t find a parking spot on the street near the place they want to visit. That is a fantastic indicator of how successful downtown is becoming and has already become. So many people are visiting downtown, using all the parking spots on the street, walking and milling about. Helping to create that vibrancy has been just an absolute joy to be a part of.”

One of the ways Kopp sees Downtown Bismarck flourishing is when people who grow up in the area leave, live elsewhere for a while and then bring back the experiences they gained while they were away.

“Kenny and Kendra Howard own Fireflour Pizza. Kenny grew up in Mandan and Kendra in Turtle Lake. They were living in San Francisco for a while and became really familiar with the Neapolitan-style pizza and decided to bring it back to Bismarck. That was a really awesome way of taking something you’ve experienced in another city and bringing it back to share with your community.”

Capitol Shakespeare also was created this way. Crystal Reid, a friend of Kopp’s, lived in Omaha and loved the live outdoor theater she experienced there. She told Kopp that she wanted to see a live, outdoor and free-to-the-public play performed each year in Bismarck. Because Kopp knew Dan Rogers, former BSC theater professor, she agreed to help Reid and their mutual friend Kendall Speten-Hansen make it happen. Capitol Shakespeare celebrated its 10th season this past summer.

Moving forward, Kopp’s hope is that more people will be aware of all that downtown has to offer. “We want to draw people into the city core, so they can visit the retailers, restaurants, art galleries and local music venues.”

To find out more about Downtown Bismarck, see a list of upcoming events and check out the walking map, visit