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City leaders pitch Corn Palace renovation dreams for architects to consider

“It’s all possible, but the question is how much do you want to pay,” said David Greusel, a longtime Kansas City-based architect leading the $120,000 study.

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Spectators watch the Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team play Dickinson State on Sat. Oct., 30 in the Corn Palace. Part of a plan on renovations to the Corn Palace includes replacing the seats inside the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

As architects prepare to design renovation plans for the interior of the Corn Palace, they will have plenty of ideas and suggestions to consider over the next few months.

After meeting with groups made up of city officials, local business executives and sports leaders Wednesday and Thursday, David Greusel, a longtime architect designing the renovation plans, said some of the most notable ideas shared among the groups were expanding seating and floor space, while maintaining the “uniqueness” of the historic building. And that means the corn murals surrounding the basketball court must stay.

“The murals may end up in a different place, but I think everyone we’ve talked to feels like the inside murals are as important to the nature of the building as the outside. Regardless of how we think we reconfigure the interior, we think we’re going to have to find space for those murals for sure,” he said.

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Elimination of the stage inside the Corn Palace is considered the best means of expanding seats for Mitchell's premier venue to host larger-scale events according to four architectural engineering firms that pitched proposals in hopes of being tabbed to lead the potential future Corn Palace interior renovation and expansion plan. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

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The private group meetings that took place at City Hall were part of a $120,000 study on the Corn Palace. The Mitchell City Council tabbed Schemmer and Convergence Design in September to lead the study that will provide city officials with several renovation designs, if the council would pursue such a project. Renovating the interior of the Corn Palace and expanding seating and floor space to bring larger scale events to Mitchell has been a hot topic among city leaders over the past year.

Greusel and Schemmer’s Robin Miller are the architects leading the study. As the designer of several Major League Baseball parks, including the Houston Astros’ baseball field, Minute Maid Park, Greusel said the Corn Palace has a historic character that he learned from the meetings “must be preserved.”

Although the goal is to renovate the interior without having to expand the footprint of the building, Greusel said an expansion of City Hall -- the neighboring building conjoined to the Corn Palace -- could open up the Armory gym and some of City Hall for additional seating and space inside the Corn Palace. For that design to work, Greusel suggested the City Hall building would have to expand north, where the existing parking lot on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Main Street.

“There is one option that doesn’t touch City Hall that may be the cheapest but not necessarily the most effective design,” Gresuel said.

Previous renovation discussions have indicated that expanding the seating capacity to around 5,000 would be the magic number for the Corn Palace to host high school state tournaments. But Mitchell Activities Director Cory Aadland said the state’s activities association requires boys high school basketball facilities to have a minimum capacity of 8,000, while girls is 5,000. However, longtime Mitchell sports broadcaster, Tim Smith, said the state hasn’t always adhered to that seating capacity.

“Last year, we had the girls state basketball tournament played at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls, which is 3,200. It seemed to be plenty big,” Smith said. “They broke that set number last year, and they can work around it if you don’t have 5,000. But, you’d have to be near that.”

Smith said adding a little over 1,000 seats to bring the Corn Palace’s existing capacity of 3,500 to at least 4,500 should be the minimum number of seating.

Sports community weighs in

As the leaders of the local sports teams that utilize the facility most often during the calendar year, Dakota Wesleyan University basketball coaches and Aadland agreed that adding another basketball court would be a major game changer, highlighting the ability to improve practices and allow for more youth tournaments.

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“I’d like to see two full-sized college floors out there with seating coming out, because you would have all that square footage for various things like volleyball and basketball,” said Jason Christensen, DWU women’s basketball coach. "Every kid in the state dreams of playing in the Corn Palace, but it is one of the worst places to practice."

Greusel indicated that adding another court is "definitely" possible, and later asked the group if they had interest in creating a third court.

“The attraction to me for having three courts means the event floor is that much bigger for other things like exhibits or banquets,” Greusel said.

The need for an additional court is especially critical for MHS basketball teams that play home games and practice in the facility. Considering freshman and junior varsity basketball games are played at the same time during home games, Aadland said if the designs include making the Armory gym part of the Corn Palace seating area, there would have to be at least one additional court to host high school matchups.

Aadland also pitched the idea of adding another entry point to the locker rooms from the court to avoid potential issues. As of now, there is one route that basketball teams share to go to their respective locker rooms during games.

Christensen’s ultimate dream layout of the Corn Palace traces back to 1923 when spectators watched games from balconies and seats that formed a bowl shape around the court.

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Nearly 5,000 people piled into the Corn Palace on March 16, 1923 for the South Dakota state basketball tournament championship at the Corn Palace between Mitchell and Yankton. At the time, it was the largest crowd to see a basketball game in the state. (Heresy photo / Courtesy of the Carnegie Resource Center)

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Retractable seating emerges as favorite

For council president Kevin McCardle, swapping out the old soft seats on the west side of the court with retractable seats would be a key to bring more larger-scale events to Mitchell.

“I look at the Sanford Pentagon, and their retractable seats let them use the place in so many different ways,” McCardle said. “We should be hosting more banquets and those types of things here.”

Greusel expressed his support for adding retractable seating, which he said provides “endless possibilities” for hosting events.

“We’re big on retractables. Often people think of them as the plastic or wood bleachers that come out, but you can literally get any kind of chair you want on a retractable platform,” Greusel said, noting some retractable seats can include cupholders or padded auditorium seats. “There is no limit with these.”

For council member Dan Sabers, improving the spectator experience is a vital issue to address during renovation plans. To enhance the angles of and vantage points of sports events and concerts, a shared vision among the groups was doing away with the old soft seats and stage along the east side in front of the bleachers.

“I think we need to blow that stage up and put bleachers all the way up behind, and then replacing your sideline and soft seats with better angles. If my wife is sitting beside me, she can’t see the game,” Sabers said.

Christensen added that the creation of suites and VIP seating would make the venue more “versatile” for both sports events and concerts.

“Every gym now that’s being built has some sort of VIP seating,” he said. “If we’re going to host more concerts, we need the locker rooms upgraded and a green room.”

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Miller said the goal is to use the suggestions from this week to present several design options for the whole community to consider in early December. Community members will then have an opportunity to choose which design plans they support at the public meeting, but the council would ultimately make the decision.

“This phase of the work in the study is to see what we can come up with within the existing walls, which can be a basic plan, a mid-range plan and one that looks at what we could do if we blew off the doors,” Miller said.

While there were a myriad of ideas and goals pitched to the architects, Greusel said “it’s all possible.” However, he emphasized it will come down to how much money the city is willing to spend. As of now, a price tag to renovate the iconic landmark hasn't emerged.

“It’s all possible, but the question is how much do you want to pay,” Greusel said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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