Visitor numbers at the Corn Palace have been down in 2018, which will be the first full year of counting visitors since installing new equipment as part of the venue's renovations.
Prior to Tuesday, the Corn Palace had received 383,118 visitors this year, with an average of 1,114 visitors per day. Last year, a count was kept from May 4, 2017 - or 242 days of the year - and the Palace saw 338,568 visitors, or 1,399 per day.
The difference between the two years could be felt during the prime summer tourism months of June, July and August. In that three-month span in 2017, the Palace saw 217,935 visitors. This year, June, July and August brought 198,191 visitors, or a drop of 9 percent. About 51 percent of the Palace's visitors this year arrived in those three months.
Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt said there's a number of factors at play, but he primarily pointed to the road construction projects Mitchell had going on last summer.
"I think you can manipulate numbers however you want them to be," he said. "We can say our numbers were down, and then there's businesses that said that they were thriving this summer. Some people get deterred with the road construction, where they pull off and they think it's going to be a quick stop and there's construction and they turn around."
During the summer months in 2018, Mitchell had the second phase of construction on Burr Street, which has one of two exits from Interstate 90 in the city. That construction is mostly complete, with some permanent painting to be done next year. But the city will still have Sanborn Boulevard, one of the primary routes for visitors to the Corn Palace, torn up from First Avenue to Ninth Avenue in 2019.
"You can always find excuses," Schmidt said. "I think our job is to say that even with construction, we're going to do all we can to get them down here, whether that's specific events we're having downtown or at the Corn Palace."
In all, the counters have been in place for 586 days and have seen 721,686 visitors in that span. November was the only month so far this year that has been up over 2017, with 14,977 visitors in 2018 compared to 9,322 visitors in 2017.
Schmidt said he'd like the Corn Palace to continue to work in cooperation with other community events in 2019, helping to drive more visitors to other attractions in town.
There was good feedback to the Christmas at the Corn Palace event held Dec. 5 in conjunction with the downtown Parade of Lights. Nearly 400 children had the opportunity to meet Santa, while almost 1,400 bowls of chili were served.
"We had about 1,800 people through the door, and we got a lot of really good reaction about how well that went," Schmidt said.