City Council: Mitchell must unite on Corn Palace planMonthly meetings planned to find agreeable proposal to remake city-owned tourism icon.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
It’s a question for the entire city to answer, said Mitchell City Council Vice President Marty Barington.
Barington said while there are a lot of opinions, ideas and theories about expanding and remodeling the Corn Palace, just one thing is sure: The only way it can happen is with the support of the citizens and businesses of Mitchell.
“The whole city is going to have to come together,” he said. “We all have to come together.”
A discussion of the Next Generation Corn Palace Area Development Project packed the house during Monday’s City Council meeting. A large crowd filled every chair in the City Hall Council Chambers and people lined up along the walls.
The council took no official action, nor did it set a date for any, but said it will continue the discussion at monthly meetings.
Council President Jeff Smith called for monthly two-hour public meetings to discuss the Corn Palace. Those would be held on the second Monday of the month; the council meets on the first and third Mondays of each month.
“I think we need to have meetings devoted just to this potential project and others we may have coming up,” he said.
Smith said people need to understand creating a new, larger and better Corn Palace will take some time.
“It’s a process,” he said. “It’s a slow process, but it’s one we must go through.”
Councilman Greg McCurry seconded the idea of monthly meetings and advised people to be patient and take their time discussing options for the city-owned facility.
Councilman Mel Olson said the city should first find a new home for City Hall to clear space for an expanded Corn Palace. City Hall is attached to the north side of the Palace.
“To my mind, we’re through with this facility,” Olson said of City Hall.
He said City Hall should be moved to a vacant building in downtown and then a second decision should be made: remodel the current City Hall space for the new Corn Palace or tear it down?
Olson said people like the idea of a downtown park, but the $35 million cost is too high. They also wonder about the proposed “Corn Tower” in the Corn Palace, which he said he likes.
Olson said he has heard from a lot of people that they don’t like the proposed seating arrangement, which would have seats facing the basketball court but forcing them to shift in their seats to see a relocated stage.
He said his mother was in Mitchell recently and said she was disappointed with the Corn Palace. In the past, Olson said, when he worked as summer guide at the Corn Palace, he saw people who snapped a photo of it and left; some didn’t even leave their cars.
“There was absolutely nothing to do inside,” he said.
Olson said Mitchell residents do need to understand how important the Corn Palace is to the city and how much money it pours into local coffers.
“The taxes that tourists pay ... are taxes that we citizens don’t have to pay, or it’s projects like Sanborn (Boulevard) that get done faster,” he said.
Councilman Ken Tracy said while he applauded the efforts of the committee tasked with coming up with an idea for a “Next Generation Corn Palace,” he doesn’t feel the proposed ideas solve any problems.
Tracy said adding 1,000 seats will not bring a state basketball tournament and will cost a great deal of money. He said he doesn’t feel the other proposed changes will lure more tourists, either, or persuade them to spend more time here.
“To me, it just doesn’t seem to be there,” he said.
Barington, who serves as the council liaison on the Corn Palace committee, said it wants to keep attention on the idea of remodeling the Corn Palace.
He said the committee wants to increase tourist visitation.
“We know it’s going downhill and has to be addressed,” Barington said.
The committee also sees the need to provide a city arena for ballgames, concerts and other events. It’s a dual task, he said.
“We’re taking all this information we’re getting from everyone,” Barington said.
A large donor would be an ideal solution, he said. If someone came forward with $15 million, the project would move ahead a lot easier.
But unless that unlikely event takes place, it’s going to take the support of the city as a whole, Barington said.
Councilman Travis Carpenter said asking people to raise their taxes to pay for it will not work.
“I don’t think that’s something that is going to pass,” Carpenter said. “It is not a viable option.”
Councilman Greg McCurry said he wants to know the cost of clearing space across from the Corn Palace for a downtown park. No figure has been floated, he said.
Smith said there is one basic question that must be answered.
“What can we afford?” he said.
Smith said the elected officials need to listen to citizens and find out what they want first. He said perhaps a youthoriented facility might generate support.
Once phase one is agreed upon, then the city could move ahead, Smith said.
Relocating City Hall might get the ball rolling, he said.
Tracy said a six-member committee named by Mayor Lou Sebert to examine City Hall has met twice and agrees there is a need for a move.
There is mold, mildew and asbestos at City Hall now, Tracy said. Noise is a factor when basketball games and other events are held in the adjacent Corn Palace.
He said downtown is still the preferred area for a relocated City Hall, but a lack of parking is a concern.
Councilman Dan Allen said the council should set a budget plan for relocating City Hall in time for the August budget hearings.
Carpenter said finding a new home for City Hall is really step one of the Corn Palace project.
“It’s important to put that plan in place so we are not stalled,” he said.
Olson said Mitchell must take action now and not let positive momentum be lost.
“To decide to do nothing is not an option,” he said