Mitchell City Council kicks in $51,500 for Corn Palace studyThe Mitchell City Council increased its contribution to fund a study on adding to and improving the Corn Palace during the second and final night of 2012 budget hearings Wednesday at City Hall.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The Mitchell City Council increased its contribution to fund a study on adding to and improving the Corn Palace during the second and final night of 2012 budget hearings Wednesday at City Hall.
The council agreed to provide an additional $51,500 to hire a Minneapolis firm. The money will be added to $34,000 the city earlier gave to a Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce committee. The chamber pledged an additional $30,000 to hire Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle at a total cost of $115,500.
The study should be completed by the end of the year or early 2012.
Doug Dailey, of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism/Corn Palace Area Development Committee, said the money will be used to create a “comprehensive master plan” for the Corn Palace.
The ultimate goal is to “improve the visitor experience” in and around the Corn Palace, Dailey told the council.
“We’d like to increase the visitation numbers of the Corn Palace,” he said. “We believe it needs to be done no matter what the future of the Corn Palace is.”
Committee members would also like to see visitors spend more time and money in Mitchell while honoring and preserving the historic nature of the Corn Palace.
Dailey said the goal is to “improve the green space, add to or improve parking, maybe have an outdoors stage to have shows outside the Corn Palace during the summer months and improve the surrounding area.”
The Corn Palace serves two masters, Dailey said: It is Mitchell’s event center while also being the primary tourism attraction in the city.
“Right now, those two components really conflict with each other,” he said. “It’s either one or the other.”
But he said an expanded Corn Palace could handle both needs at once.
Dailey said input from the public will be welcomed as the Corn Palace’s future is debated. This is the third Corn Palace in downtown Mitchell; it opened in 1921, following the demolition of the previous two.
“We don’t pretend to know what everyone thinks it needs,” Dailey said.
While there have been other studies, this one will be different, he said.
“We don’t consider this a study,” Dailey said. “We think it’s a long-term plan.”
He said none of the studies have looked at the entire Corn Palace; they have been events-center studies, primarily.
“We think this is much more comprehensive,” he said. “This is Mitchell’s Phillips to the Falls project.”
Phillips to the Falls was an effort by the city of Sioux Falls to improve the area of that city leading from Phillips Avenue to Falls Park along the Big Sioux River. Dailey also compared it to Rapid City’s current effort to create a downtown square.
The Corn Palace plan drew high praise and speedy approval from the council.
“I think your committee has done a great job and I think this is a unique approach,” said Councilman Mel Olson.
Olson said he wants to focus on a phased approach, since Mitchell cannot afford one major effort. Dailey agreed with that idea.
“We don’t want the Corn Palace shut down at any one time,” he said. That is a “must,” he added.
“I’d like to see them approach this as a remodel to an existing house rather than building an entirely new house,” Olson said.
He said while he is not opposed to an entirely new Corn Palace, he feels a project that includes green spaces and improvements to the building will be easier to gain support for from the community.
Council Vice President Marty Barington, a member of the committee studying the project, said the firm that was selected made the members “feel comfortable” that the firm understood the need to improve the Corn Palace while preserving what makes it special.
Councilman Ken Tracy said while he supports the study, he wonders if improving the Corn Palace will answer the need for more seating to host events.
“How much money do you put into this existing structure before you say it’s not feasible, worthwhile to do this, before you say it’s time to build a new one?” Tracy asked.
He said additions and improvements to the iconic building have been discussed “for years and years” by the council and Mitchell residents.
“And we have done very little in that regard,” Tracy said.
Dailey said the firm may come up with the answer that the current Corn Palace cannot be altered to house the events that people want. But he said most people want the study and want to discuss the future of the Corn Palace.
“The feedback we have all been getting has been very positive,” Dailey said. “We want to build on that momentum.”
Olson said “old dogs” he has talked to complain that this is just another study, but he rejects that criticism.
The committee has examined the old studies and will use them in this new process, he said.
“The scope of this project is much wider than the previous studies,” Olson said.
The council must approve its 2012 budget by September and will hold first and second readings of the budget during council meetings next month. The final budget total isn’t in, but Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson said it will be around $31 million.
Other budget requests that were approved or altered by the council Wednesday the following.
The council approved $15,000 for the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau for a “targeted museum marketing campaign” for the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, Dakota Discovery Museum, Carnegie Resource Center and McGovern Legacy Museum.
Hannah Walters, the director of the CVB, asked for a three-year commitment from the council but received only one. The money will help brand Mitchell museums and plant the idea of them in people’s minds.
“I think this is a really good fit and I’m excited to be bringing this forward,” Walters said.
She said the museums do a great job presenting information but need to lure more people. A combined marketing program will do just that, Walters said.
Online marketing and booking will be emphasized, she said. “I want to turn them from lookers to bookers,” she said.
The museums will also do more cooperative marketing with the South Dakota Department of Tourism. Billboard, printed brochures and other traditional methods are useful as well, she said.
Indian Village Executive Director Cindy Gregg said advertising cuts have deeply hurt the museums and prevented them from bringing people to Mitchell.
“We need to get them here and staying here,” she said. “If we all work together, we’re more powerful.”
Councilman Travis Carpenter said the museums have done what they were told to do last year — work together — so they deserve the funding.
The council approved $12,000 for LifeQuest, up from the $10,000 allocation in 2011.
Olson said while he’s not sure if he will go to heaven, not giving LifeQuest an additional $2,000 when the city has $1.5 million in reserves seems a way to ensure he won’t.
LifeQuest will lose $250,000 in state funding due to a 4.5 percent budget cut to Medicaid providers, according to Lifequest Executive Director Daryl Kilstrom. He said the agency serves hundreds of people in the community, about 160 around the clock, and also pays 862 caregivers who provide services to family members and others around the state.
“It’s been some lean times and we’re adjusting to that,” he said. “We’ve done considerably more fundraising; we know we have to do that.”
LifeQuest raised rates for employee health insurance, hiked room and board fees for residents and has raised $50,000 from supporters. It sold three vehicles, relies more on Palace Transit and has ended its Christmas party and other events.
The council approve $8,325 for the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce for the city beautification effort, up from $5,400 in 2011.
Olson and Councilman Greg McCurry said the group behind the beautification effort should seek new projects.
“I’d love to see specific recommendations from this committee in the future,” McCurry said. “Because we have a long ways to go.”
Mayor Lou Sebert said he regularly hears from tourists that Mitchell is a clean community.
The council approved $1,500 for the Mitchell Area Council for People with Disabilities, the same as in previous years.
Most of the money is returned to the city to pay for sidewalk improvements, the council was told, and in other ways to promote access to public facilities, including a dock at Lake Mitchell to which the council donated $7,000.
The group also hosts an annual Americans with Disabilities Act picnic and other events during the year.
Smith said the council appreciates the information and has consistently supported improved access. He said Terry Johnson, the deputy director of the Public Works Department, has done an “outstanding” job of ensuring sidewalks in the city are upgraded and safe.
The council committed $7,500 in city support for the Fourth of July fireworks display at Lake Mitchell. The city had already budgeted $5,000 for the show and added $2,500.
Barington had asked for $15,000 total.
The Mitchell Exchange Club raised almost $5,000 this year for the fireworks. The club will do so again next year, said Councilman Phil Carlson, who sits on the Exchange Club board and is still accepting donations to cover the costs of the 2011 show.
Barington said he favors holding simultaneous fireworks shows on each end of the lake as a way to draw people to Mitchell for the Fourth.
“Really getting a good bang for our buck,” he said.
Barington said the city should also help organize more activities surrounding the fireworks show, including a concert or other events. Other council members agreed with him and said they will keep an open mind to promoting a big summer event in the city.
The council reviewed the $94,000 it commits to economic development.
It gives $81,000 to the Mitchell Area Development Corp., $10,000 to regional economic cevelopment and $3,000 to the South Dakota Small Business Development Center.
Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce and Mitchell Area Development Corp., said the local economy is doing well.
The Mitchell area has its highest employment level since the so-called Great Recession hit in late 2008, Hisel said. More than 11,000 people are employed in Davison County.
In addition, 500 more jobs may soon open in town, he said, mostly in metal fabrication and welding, if there are trained workers to fill the jobs.
Affordable housing is also a concern, he said.
On the positive side, Hisel added, Mitchell is 10th in nation in shortest commute time, averaging 8.7 minutes commute time per day.
The council voted unanimously — and loudly — to reduce the proposed cost of living allowance increase in the budget for city employees from 3 percent to 2 percent.
The city is in discussions with three unions that represent about 150 city employees. The 2 percent COLA increase doesn’t mean that will be the amount of pay increase offered to or accepted by the unions, because the figure is still under negotiation.
The council decided to give $25,000 for a shoreline stabilization program along Indian Village Road near the Sportsmen’s Club.
“This is the logical place to invest some money, because we can have future programs there,” McCurry said.
Sebert said he knows of a resident who has lost 4 to 6 feet of shoreline due to the high water in recent years, and saw a venerable cottonwood fall down as well.
The Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee has been examining the issue this summer, said McCurry, the former chairman of the committee who now serves as the council’s liaison to it.