Campus concept emerges for city hallCity has land, plans to remove building for municipal offices.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
For more than half a century, Mitchell City Hall has been attached to the north side of its more famous and glamorous neighbor, the World’s Only Corn Palace.
Mitchell city offices relocated to the building at 612 N. Main St. in 1960, 23 years after it was built as an armory, and 39 years after the third, and current, Corn Palace opened just to the south of it at 601 N. Main St. City Hall is itself a work of art, designed as an Art Deco structure, a 20th century style that used dramatic designs as a form of both art and architecture.
Under the plan now under way, City Hall will either be remodeled to become part of the Corn Palace, or will be torn down to make room for an expansion of the tourism mecca.
A new city hall, envisioned as a sparkling gateway to downtown Mitchell, is planned for the northeast corner of First Avenue and Rowley Street, about six blocks southwest of the Corn Palace. No firm timeline has been put into place on building that municipal office space and city council meeting room.
Mayor Ken Tracy said the new city hall is “certainly” a year or two in the future. It already has $2.6 million of funding, though, from $13.9 million in bonds recently issued by the Mitchell City Council for the city hall project, the Corn Palace project, an addition to the city ice arena, and a renovation and expansion of the Mitchell Public Library. More than $2.6 million could ultimately be needed for the city hall project, the mayor has said.
“It’s kind of a moving target right now,” Tracy said. “Having these many major projects going on at the same time is a complicated process to say the least. These are significant projects for a city of this size, particularly to be undertaking them at the same juncture.”
City Council President Jeff Smith said he thinks once the city is ready to act, the new city hall could start to come to life in about a year.
“No contracts have been discussed for city hall that I am aware,” Smith said. “Once we put the finishing touches on the ice arena and get that project started, we will then start on the city hall building.
“I am sure we will give all interested parties the ability to submit a bid, and the timing is a big question mark,” he said. “If I had my preference, we will select a company to design and have an approved plan in 2013 with construction to start in 2014.”
Tracy said there have not been any detailed discussions on what a new city hall would look like, or what would be needed in it.
The closest to that was a series of discussions on converting an existing building into a municipal headquarters, he said. Those discussions were held in 2012.
Tracy said at that time, it was determined that about 15,000 square feet would be needed for city hall.
“A design for a new city hall hasn’t moved too far beyond that,” he said. “I think a consideration is going to be how big a footprint a building would have to be to accommodate that 15,000 square feet.”
The size of the lot where the new building is to be erected may mean at least a two-story structure may be needed, Tracy said. A new council chambers would likely be “somewhat larger” than what the council now uses, he said, since there has been an overflow audience when some issues were discussed.
A drawing of what a new city hall could look like was presented to the council in August. The Puetz Corp. drawing shows a two-story building, topped by a dome. A fountain is in a courtyard in front of the building.
Tracy said that concept called for investing $3.4 million, not including the cost of the land and removing the buildings on it. The council deemed that too expensive.
He said he thinks parts of that drawing — “maybe something similar” — could be used as a basis for a new city hall, but with a price tag closer to $3 million. The city needs to see how it can get “the biggest bang for its buck,” the mayor said.
Most offices would relocate to a new city hall, Tracy said, although the Corn Palace director would likely remain at that facility rather than moving.
Last year, the city bought two adjoining properties on the northeast corner of the First Avenue and Rowley Street intersection for a total of $171,500.
The city purchased Mimi’s Attic from Marianne McCreight for $120,000, and the Brenda’s Sew and So building from Robert Bates for $51,500. Mimi’s Attic, at 124 W. First Ave., and Brenda’s Sew and So, at 116 W. First Ave., will be torn down.
The old Longhorn Bar, which the city bought for $1 after a partial collapse and the relocation of the business, will also be removed. It’s just to the east of the planned city hall site. There are two buildings there at 101 N. Main St. that will be torn down this spring.
The city bought the old Garden of Eden building, located at 214 W. First Ave., just west of the planned city hall site, late last year for $87,500. It also will be demolished. Tracy said the north side of First Avenue from Main Street to the James Valley Community Center will all be city property. Add in the Public Safety Building, and the area takes on the appearance of a city campus.
“I think it’s going to be a nice improvement to the city,” Tracy said. No matter what happens, it will serve as “urban renewal” for that area of the city, Tracy said. Mitchell Public Works Director Tim McGannon said the two buildings at the site of the proposed new city hall should be gone at some point this spring or summer.
“No timeline yet for removal,” McGannon said in an email response to Daily Republic questions. “We have a contract for the removal of the asbestos. That should occur in the next 4-6 weeks. Only then will we be able to demolish.”
Tracy said asbestos abatement will occur this spring, and then the city will tear the buildings down. It’s difficult to say when a new city hall will be completed, he said, since bid costs are uncertain, and surprises, such as the dirt work that needs to be done before the Mitchell Activities Center project can begin, often pop up.
The vacated lot where the old Longhorn Bar and a second building now stand could be a parking lot for City Hall and other downtown offices and businesses, Tracy said.
“That’s a consideration,” he said. “Some have mentioned they would like to have a green space there.”
Other options explored
The decision to build a new city hall came after the City Council gave serious thought to moving city offices to the Mitchell Technical Institute north campus building on Capital Street. MTI will relocate all its offices and classes to a unified south campus in the coming months.
The city also studied other buildings in Mitchell as possible new sites, and considered moving into the Mitchell Public Library building, with the library shifting to the MTI building.
A committee explored all the options, and regularly reported to the council and Mayor Ken Tracy. In the end, city officials decided to build a new structure.
The city sold $13.9 million in bonds that will provide $6.5 million for a Corn Palace renovation, $2.6 million for a new city hall in southern downtown, $2.5 million for a second indoor ice rink at the Mitchell Activities Center and $2.3 million for an expansion of and upgrades to the Mitchell Public Library.
“It is still our intent to complete the four projects for the $13.9 million bonded by the city,” Tracy said in an email response to questions. “There are other factors that may change the total amount spent. Those factors are private donations or grants. No amounts are determined at this time.
“The $13.9 million is not part of the renovation of (the existing) City Hall,” he added. “As I have stated to you previously, I don’t think the $2.6 million allocated for a new city hall is sufficient. A portion of that has already been used for land acquisition.
“Depending on the outcome of donations or grants, I think it may be possible to divert additional funds to the new city hall without issuing more bonds.”
Tracy said the new city hall, the Corn Palace improvements and the potential use of the existing City Hall space for tourism exhibits are all linked together.
“We’re not going to be able to do additional work on the vacated space until we get out of here,” Tracy said of the existing City Hall. “Obviously, before we can vacate City Hall, we’d have to have the new one in place.
“The City Hall project would not affect, I think, the work to be done on the Corn Palace,” he said. “The Corn Place work could go forward once they have an agreement on what they want to be done. The City Hall work would not be impacted.”
City Hall history
The building that now houses City Hall opened in 1937 as an armory. It served multiple purposes before city offices were located there in 1960 after the city moved from the three-story Jasper granite City Hall structure that opened in 1904.
It was located next to the still-standing Carnegie Library building — now called the Carnegie Resource Center — and was designed as a possible state Capitol during a political battle over the state capital location. When Pierre retained the capital, Mitchell moved its city offices there. It was torn down once the shift was made to the current City Hall in 1960.
Retired Davison County Sheriff Lyle Swenson, the president of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, said the old City Hall was built on unstable land that had once been a slough when people hunted ducks and geese. The building was massive, and impressive to look at it, Swenson said, but “it settled a lot.”
By 1960, the city decided to shift its offices to the old armory, and tear down City Hall. There are no signs of it now; a city parking lot replaced the impressive but flawed structure.
The current City Hall has been altered many times, but a reminder of its original purpose, a basketball court, still exists on the second floor.
Last year, the South Dakota State Historical Society’s State Historic Preservation Office recommended placing the building on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Mitchell’s Historic Commercial District.
That recommendation was forwarded to the National Park Service, which oversees the register.
The Mitchell City Council voted 6-1 last year to ask not to have City Hall placed on the list. City officials, including City Attorney Carl Koch, warned that if it is placed on the register, the city may be hampered or even blocked from remodeling or removing the building.
However, Liz Almlie, of the State Historic Preservation Office, said in the end the city would have the final say. Council President Smith said he recalled the legal battle over the old Notre Dame Academy in Mitchell, in which admirers of that closed school fought for years to prevent it from being demolished. It was eventually demolished, though.
Smith and the other city officials said they feel the city should maintain control of its own property, to use — or remove — as it sees fit.