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Hannah Walters, director of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Doug Dailey, president of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, discuss plans Friday at the chamber offices for a fourth Corn Palace. (Tom Lawrence/Republic)

Report on new Palace released

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Doug Dailey wants to make this clear: He's a big fan of the Corn Palace.

Dailey, president of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, grew up in Mitchell and remains a supporter of the palace on the prairie.

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But he also thinks it's time for a new, larger Corn Palace, with an improved visitor experience to lure more people here and make their stays longer and more enjoyable.

"Mitchell is the Corn Palace," Dailey said. "It's something we have to take a look at."

An improved Corn Palace would likely draw more tourists who would bring additional money to Mitchell, Dailey said.

The Corn Palace's attendance in 2009 was about 270,000 for the tourist season, which runs from May to early October. That's about half what it was at its peak years ago, Dailey said.

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said he believes that's an accurate figure. Although no exact records are available, Schilling said he has been told that during the peak years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, about 6,000 people passed through the Corn Palace every day.

"That's the reports I get back," he said. "They did about 6,000 a day and we're at about half of that."

Dailey said a new Corn Palace, with improved visitor-friendly and hands-on activities and events, would reverse that negative trend. It might also mean the city-owned facility could break even or turn a profit.

Currently, according to the chamber committee report, it costs $936,000 to operate the Corn Palace while its revenue is $658,000. However, visitor spending associated with the Corn Palace brings $300,000 to the city coffers, which actually means a slight operating profit of about $20,000, he said.

But the city also spends $300,000 annually on capital costs, such as replacing parts of the aging building. The Corn Palace may be a folk-art icon, but it doesn't produce a cash crop, Dailey noted.

A new Corn Palace, extending a block and a half along Main Street, with a large green space across the street from it, is his vision.

He said the Corn Palace would be built sometime in the next 20 years, and the sooner the better. The first Corn Palace, called the Corn Belt Exposition, was opened in 1892. The second was built in 1905.

The current building was opened in 1921, making it 90 years old next year. It will likely celebrate its centennial, Dailey said, but it should be retired soon after that date.

The need for a plan to replace the current Corn Palace is even more serious than plans to replace previous palaces, in his view. Even if locals resist the idea to replace the city icon, Dailey said there should be a plan in place to at least replace it if it is damaged or destroyed in a disaster.

If the building is hit by a tornado, fire or other emergency, Mitchell would soon feel the economic pinch, he said.

"What's going to happen if we don't have a plan?" Dailey said. "We're going to be behind the 8 ball."

Dailey and Hannah Walters, the director of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau, sat down with The Daily Republic Friday to discuss the chamber's 20-year vision for the future of the Corn Palace and surrounding area.

"This is a long-term plan," Walters said.

Unlike Dailey, Walters isn't a Mitchell native, but she shares his view of a city with greatly enhanced exits off Interstate 90, an improved and more vital downtown and a cleaner, more attractive Lake Mitchell.

Walters is a California native who came to Mitchell to attend Dakota Wesleyan University. She fell in love with the community and has set down roots here.

The native and the transplant have served on a chamber committee studying the future of the Corn Palace for nearly two years.

They see the need for a "comprehensive" plan for Mitchell, with the Corn Palace as a key link in the chain of ideas.

"We would like to see a confluence, like Sioux Falls has with its falls," Dailey said.

Falls Park was dramatically improved in the last few years and has become a major attraction in Sioux Falls, he said. That could happen in Mitchell, too, with an improved Corn Palace.

Dailey said he would like to see elements of the first two Corn Palaces included in the fourth palace.

He said the more ornate elements that were included in the first two versions of the building could be added to the next one.

Under the committee's plan, the neighboring area would be cleared of the businesses and shops that line the street and draw tourists and their dollars.

The new, open area would offer greatly improved sightlines and a place for farmers markets, art events and other community gatherings, Dailey said.

He said area businesses could be bought and removed.

Merle and Rosa Seeman own The Snack Shack and Rosa's Stuff, both located across the street from the Corn Palace.

Merle Seeman said he doesn't favor removing the businesses that serve tourists and visitors to the Corn Palace.

"No," he said. "That's just insane."

Seeman said he feels the Corn Palace already offers enough items for sale, especially since it's a public entity competing with private businesses. There's room for other shops as well, he said.

"You better have things for people to do when they come other than just the Corn Palace," he said.

Seeman compared it to Wall Drug, which he said is merely the main attraction in that town. Other businesses thrive by being located near it, he said.

Dailey said he feels the Corn Palace already does a great deal of good for other businesses in Mitchell.

His view is that a larger, more modern facility will reverse the attendance decline and bring more people and more money to Mitchell.

But that means opening the area "clear to Sanborn," he said, to provide an improved view of the Mitchell icon.

"If you're going to open it up, you're going to have to pick up the properties," Dailey said.

He said the chamber and the Mitchell Area Development Corporation are ready to shift their offices to the former restaurant building they now own along the interstate. That would open some room for the green space.

The chamber has asked the Mitchell City Council for $34,000 to get architectural and landscape designs created for a new Corn Palace.

"We've gone as far as we can as a committee," Dailey said.

To view the chamber's 20-year plan for the Corn Palace and surrounding area, go to www.mitchellrepublic.com.

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