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A Palatial Plan

January 15, 2012, 9:50 PM by Kelly Bartnick

A Palatial Plan
MITCHELL, SD - Love it or hate it, you know it's there. For more than a hundred years, Mitchell's Corn Palace has held bragging rights as the center for the community. It also brings plenty of tourists into town. But the number has dropped a bit in recent years.

It really is Mitchell's golden palace, and it has been that way ever since the first corn palace popped up in 1892.

“We think it's an icon. Not only for Mitchell, but for South Dakota. So we also recognize the need to maintain historical significance,” Doug Dailey of the Corn Palace Convention And Visitors Bureau said.

But World's Only Corn Palace could be in for a big change. For nearly three years now, Dailey and a Corn Palace development committee have been working now on a renovation plan for the palace and parts of downtown Mitchell surrounding the building.

“We need to enhance the area around it. We need to provide more things for kids to experience, not just to see. They want to do something. And also to improve the events experience while in the Corn Palace,” Hannah Walters of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

And Walters says no idea is off the table. The group has a challenge because the Corn Palace so many people know as a tourist attraction, is also a center of activity for the community of Mitchell. More than 500,000 people walked through the doors last year alone.

“Proms, graduations, other concerts that we have. The corn palace festival. So it is busy over 300 days of the year,” Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said.

Schilling says that schedule and the building's dual function already poses problems, especially as tourist trends change, and those who may have traveled over the summer are now encroaching more on times during the spring and fall when the building normally would focus on the community.

“We've made it work. And we just want to make it better so that when the person comes through, we can have events during the summer time,” Schilling said.

“When there are events, there's not much there for the tourists and vice-versa,” Dailey said.

A conceptual plan due out next week could be the catalyst to change all that. A Minneapolis architecture firm is set to present a multi-million dollar, multi-phase plan to completely overhaul the building and it's surroundings.

“Our last major renovation was 1965. That was the last time there was a closure of the building for any time,” Schilling said.

“The building is the third Corn Palace built in 1921, so it's 90 years old. So we really believe that we need to bring back some of the historical significance that we've lost over the last 90 years,” Walters said.

That could mean more corn murals inside and out, completely new spaces to educate and entertain tourists, and most likely an expanded arena space.

“We would look at our numbers issue. We would look at sight line issues, but we believe it's doing a great job,” Schilling said.

Schilling says the corn palace holds just under 3,000 people for sports programs. The Mitchell Kernels play here, but the size makes it too small for some events like state basketball tournaments.

“The building works fine for what it is. However we recognize the need to improve upon what it does,” Dailey said.

If you are curious about the next generation corn palace, Architects will unveil their concepts at a public meeting Monday evening at 5:30 at the Corn Palace.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The date of the next meeting was corrected.

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