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Corn Palace renovation begins brick by brick

Mayor Ken Tracy breaks loose the first brick of the Corn Palace as Doug Dailey, chairman of the tourism/Corn Palace area development committee, waits his turn Friday afternoon on top of the main entrance awning of the Corn Palace. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
The Corn Palace mascot Cornillia watches as Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy address the crowd during the official Corn Palace construction kickoff Friday afternoon in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

There's a hole in the wall of the Corn Palace and Mayor Ken Tracy helped put it there.

Standing atop the Corn Palace's marquee Friday, Tracy and Tourism/Corn Palace Area Development Committee Chairman Doug Dailey put on hard hats and used a power tool to cut bricks from the wall, officially kicking off a two-phase, nearly $7.2 million renovation of the city-owned arena and tourist attraction.

But before the small-scale demolition began, Tracy spoke to a crowd of about 50 people gathered for the start of construction -- or "corn-struction," as the organizers of the event coined it.

"This has been a long time coming," Tracy said. "To get to this point, there has been a lot of hard work that has gone into this project over quite a number of years."

Tracy thanked Daily and his committee, which worked for years to develop the plan to renovate the Corn Palace.

"They have taken a lot of their time and effort and put it into to this to get here today," Tracy said. "And it hasn't been without some bumps in the road and hard knocks, and we appreciate the effort that they put into this."

In the first phase of the renovation, changes planned for the Corn Palace include new light-up domes, larger murals with improved lighting and large windows that open to a walk-out balcony above the marquee.

The cost of construction for the first phase is expected to be about $3.62 million, with a 10 percent contingency taking up the rest of the $4.2 million budget for the first phase. A local company, Mueller Lumber, was awarded the bid for the construction by the City Council on May 19.

Workers from Mueller Lumber started preliminary work Monday at the Palace. Friday's event was a kickoff ceremony.

In the second phase, the existing City Hall building -- which adjoins the Corn Palace's north side -- will be transformed into a large, open space for agriculture-themed exhibits, complete with a small theater large enough to accommodate a busload of tourists.

Mitchell City Councilman Marty Barington, also a member of the committee in charge of the Corn Palace project, said in an interview at Friday's event that there were times during the planning process where he was unsure whether anything would ever actually be accomplished.

"It was back and forth, so we just kind of got in the trenches and kept moving hard forward," he said. "So having it happen and become a reality is just a great feeling inside. It really is."

Councilman Randy Doescher, also a committee member, said in an interview that the Corn Palace has been in need of a renovation for a long time.

"I really think this will boost our businesses, our tourism," he said. "I really just think it's a great thing for Mitchell."

The 600 block of North Main Street, directly west of the Corn Palace, was blocked to traffic Wednesday. The 100 block of East Sixth Avenue, directly south of the Corn Palace, will be closed to traffic Tuesday, according to Deputy Public Works Director Terry Johnson.

With the main entrance to the Corn Palace blocked by construction, visitors will only be able to enter through a temporary entrance on the south side of the building.

The large murals on the front of the Corn Palace have already been completely stripped of corn, exposing the wood panels beneath. Many of those wood panels will be replaced during the construction process.