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Schilling resignation comes with $7M project looming large

Plans move ahead for this redesign of the Corn Palace in downtown Mitchell.

A $7.175 million renovation of the Corn Palace will move ahead as planned despite the sudden resignation Monday of the director of Mitchell's city-owned arena and tourist attraction.

Former Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling's resignation comes roughly two and a half months before construction is expected to begin on a long-awaited renovation of the Corn Palace.

Mayor Ken Tracy announced Schilling's resignation at around 11 p.m. Monday following a City Council meeting. Tracy asked Schilling to resign because of an as-yet unreleased state audit of the Corn Palace's finances and operations, Tracy said Tuesday.

"The bulk of the planning and decisions regarding the different phases and improvements are done," Tracy said in an interview Wednesday with The Daily Republic. "I think we can proceed without any major glitches."

Tracy acknowledged that Schilling was closely involved in making recommendations and suggestions for the renovation.

"From that standpoint, there is going to be some input that will be missing," he said.

Assistant Corn Palace Director Jeri Mickelson has taken over for Schilling on an interim basis. Mickelson has been asked to sit in on future discussions involving the project and Assistant Public Works Director Terry Johnson will serve as a contact for the architects and contractors involved in the project, Tracy said.

Eric Amel, of Meyer, Scherer and Rockcastle, a Minneapolis-based firm designing the project for the city, said he learned of Schilling's resignation shortly after leaving Monday night's council meeting. Amel attended the meeting to make a presentation updating the council on the project -- a presentation that took place hours before Schilling's resignation was announced.

"I'm not going to say it has no impact," Amel said.

Schilling was a valuable source of knowledge about the operation of the Corn Palace, Amel said, adding that Schilling's participation in the project "will be greatly missed."

"Fortunately, we're far enough down the road where the design is well set," Amel said. "We'll be able to finalize all our plans."

Amel said he does not believe the circumstances that led to Schilling's resignation are linked in any way to the renovation project.

"I think that we're full speed ahead," he said. "We're going to miss him, but we'll find workarounds."

CIty Council President Jeff Smith, a member of the Corn Palace Festival Board, said members of the board have expressed a willingness to take on additional responsibilities to ensure the Corn Palace continues to operate smoothly in Schilling's absence.

"It's probably going to be more of a team effort until we get a new director hired," Smith said.

Tracy also said he plans to be more involved in the operation of the Corn Palace than he has been in the past.

The city plans to release the state audit report that led to Schilling's resignation and discuss it in open session at the next council meeting, which is scheduled for March 17. The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation is looking into the matter to determine whether any criminal activity took place, Tracy said Tuesday. Few other details of Schilling's resignation or the audit have been released.