$35 million Corn Palace vision unveiledPresentation includes observation deck, expanded seating capacity
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A renovation and expansion concept for the Corn Palace was unveiled Monday evening at the iconic downtown Mitchell structure, and the price tag was estimated at $35 million.
The response from the approximately 175 people who were present, including several city officials, was largely positive. Officials stressed numerous times that the ideas they presented are preliminary concepts in the earliest stages of development.
Carrying out the full “vision,” presented by Tom Meyer, founding principal in Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle, the Minneapolis firm that was hired to study the Corn Palace, would cost $35.415 million. That figure does not include land purchases, dealing with hazardous material, relocating City Hall or some other costs.
The estimate does include the addition of a “Corn Tower” rooftop observation deck, hundreds of additional seats in the Palace’s arena and the conversion of the adjacent City Hall to an exhibit space, among other aspects of the wide-reaching project.
There was minimal discussion on how the project would be paid for, and City Councilman Marty Barington, who serves on the committee helping to formulate the proposal, said that is the next step.
The proposal will come before the City Council in the coming weeks, he said, and a discussion will start on how to pay for the project. It is not on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting but may still be discussed.
The plan calls for an expanded building with more visitor attractions, including an open-air Corn Tower atop the building that would be accessible by the public through a glass elevator and a spiral, glass-enclosed staircase.
“We said, ‘Let’s allow people to go up there,’” Meyer said.
He said a tower at a museum his firm designed in Minneapolis has been a huge hit.
“People love to take the trip,” he said. “Kids love it. Older folks love it.”
There would be a large green area in front of the building and additional seating would be added. A theater would be added to tell the Corn Palace’s story.
Street-level decorations that once existed on the building would return, and the roof would include flags and more domes. The original façade of City Hall, now covered, is impressive, he said, and might be shown again to add to the building’s image.
Downtown streets would be paved in a Corn Palace-themed way and street lights and traffic lights might also resemble the building.
The arena would jump from 2,989 seats for basketball to 3,950 and would increase from 3,150 for concerts and other events to 4,450.
The stage would be shifted to the north end of the arena and the current stage and locker rooms would be removed. The seating on the west side would be replaced, with 29 rows reduced to 28 rows with wider, more comfortable seats and a steeper slope for better sight lines.
A national design contest could be held to choose some of the corn mural designs for the building, Meyer suggested.
“That word would spread out, and this would be very good for the community,” he said.
Meyer also suggested a tribute area to famed South Dakota artist Oscar Howe, who was a longtime designer of the Corn Palace murals, as well as changing exhibits, and opportunities for visitors to place corn in an annual design, which they could then watch be completed online weeks and months after they were here.
People in the audience offered ideas and suggestions and Meyer welcomed the input. He said the final plan is yet to be written.
“I think there are all kinds of options if this project moves forward,” he said.
One woman asked if there was any way to get enough seats in the building to host a state basketball tournament. She said she was told the state athletics association requires 5,700 for a girls’ tourney and 7,000 for a boys’ tournament.
Doug Dailey, a Mitchell lawyer who led the committee that has pushed for the so-called “Next Generation Corn Palace,” said the current footprint would not allow an arena with more than 4,000 seats. When she asked why the Corn Palace couldn’t be mostly kept as it is and a new arena and events center built, Dailey said the determination has been made to retain the Corn Palace as the city’s events center. He said a Corn Palace renovation and expansion encompasses the need to beef up the city’s biggest tourist draw, in addition to improving the city’s arena space.
The plan would utilize the current Corn Palace, which was built in 1921, as well as City Hall, which would be turned over to the tourism mecca. City offices would be relocated. There would also be expansions added to the building.
“I like the design that I have seen,” said Mark Puetz, of Mitchell.
He works for the family-owned Puetz Corp., which examined the Corn Palace in 2009 and said a renovation would be very expensive and difficult to complete. But he said this proposal seems to have answered questions that were raised.
“Good job on that,” he said.
Meyer brought two other veteran consultants with him and said they represented MS&R’s “senior team.”
They have enjoyed the challenge of finding a way to preserve the historic structure while making it more accessible and interesting to the public, Meyer said, while also working to spark an “urban renewal” effort in downtown.
Dailey opened the meeting, which lasted an hour and 40 minutes. Dailey said his committee’s task was to “develop a vision” for the building and for downtown.
Meyer said the goal was to create a jumping-off point for the project.
The Corn Palace has hosted millions of visitors since the first one opened in 1892, but in recent years, the third version of the building has seen visitation drop. The city-owned building has been deemed old-fashioned and without the interactive features that visitors want, according to committee members.
Meyer said the Corn Palace must offer beauty and a compelling place to stop for it to reverse the slide.
“The current one is, in certain ways, the least interesting of the 100-some that have preceded it,” he said.
His firm was hired in May and considered eight options for an expanded and improved Corn Palace, as well as tearing it down and building an entirely new one. In the end, it came up with three options for a new Corn Palace.
One offered minimal adjustments and would have cost less than $20 million. The second option had a price tag of about $35 million. The third was estimated to cost around $45 million.
The design firm and the committee chose to go with the middle option, he said.
Meyer said a revitalized Corn Palace might spark interest in downtown. City offices could move to a vacant downtown building, providing a long-term tenant for an otherwise vacant space.
Senior apartments are often built in reborn downtowns, he said, since seniors want to be able to walk to restaurants and places of interest.
“And that’s how redevelopment might begin to happen,” Meyer said.
Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle has also recommended creating a second downtown “anchor” by The Depot Pub and Grill, where a park and other attractions could help spark improvements and interest on the south end of Main Street.
Barington spoke with people as they left the meeting, held on a cold, windy and snowy night. He said he heard glowing reviews.
“I think it went great,” Barington said. “I love the feedback. I didn’t get one bad response.”
The Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism/Corn Palace Area Development Committee, including Dailey, a Mitchell lawyer; Barington; Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling; Hannah Walters, director of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau and other people, worked with the Minneapolis firm to prepare the presentation.
The city pledged $85,000 for the study and the chamber agreed to kick in $30,000 to hire Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle. Meyer said one reason the firm was chosen was because of the design it produced to convert an old flour mill in Minneapolis into the Mill City Museum.