The Corn Palace's largest dome gently swayed in the breeze Thursday before it was safely lowered to the street below.
Now, the Corn Palace sits dome-less, as a two-phase, nearly $7.2 million renovation of the city-owned arena and tourist attraction takes a major step forward -- visually, at least. Inside the Corn Palace, work has been ongoing since June, but has mostly consisted of demolition to make way for changes planned in the renovation.
The cost of construction for the first phase is expected to be about $3.64 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 council in May.
Dave Epp, a project manager with Mueller Lumber, said the removal of the domes went smoothly, though the process required the use of two different cranes -- one for the largest dome, which is 30 feet, 6 inches tall, and weighs 11,500 pounds, and one for the two smaller domes, which are 18 feet tall and weigh a few thousand pounds.
"To me, it's not a big step, but it certainly looks like a huge step," Epp said. "She looks pretty naked now."
To remove the domes, workers first removed the flag poles that stuck out the top of the domes, then removed the bolts that attached the domes' metal frames to the building. Then, they fastened the crane's slings to the metal frames and hoisted the domes off the building.
The two smaller domes and the two turrets were removed Wednesday afternoon, and the largest dome was removed Thursday morning.
Once the largest dome was taken down, workers immediately began to cut away at the outer shells of all three domes to get at the metal frame inside, which Epp said will be shipped to a company in Minnesota and used in the construction of the three new, light-up domes.
"Our goal today is to get all three of these stripped so they know what size truck to bring," Epp said.
It's unknown at this point exactly when the new domes will be ready to be placed on the building, Epp said.
Mayor Ken Tracy said Thursday he was not aware the old domes would be taken down so early in the renovation process. But, Tracy said he understood the need to remove the domes' metal frames and begin work on the new domes.
"This is another indication that the renovation is moving forward," Tracy said. "I think everyone is anxious to see what the new one looks like."
While there had been discussion among city officials in the past about potentially trying to salvage the old domes and put them to use some other way, Tracy said that now appears to be impossible.
"It's a bit of our history that's going to be gone," he said.
The Corn Palace's main entrance, which faces Main Street, is closed to the public. Visitors now enter through a temporary entrance on the south side of the building, and still have access to the gift shop on the arena floor.
"We're hoping not too many tourists are disappointed," Epp said. "But construction and change a lot of times excites people."
A small crowd of tourists and locals in the area of the Corn Palace on Thursday morning stopped to watch the largest dome come down. Dan Hauser, co-owner of Einstein's Costume Rental in downtown Mitchell, said it's exciting to see so much activity around the Corn Palace.
"It's not often they change the domes," he said. "It's interesting to see what's inside of them."
A metal frame was the only thing inside the largest dome, but the two smaller domes each had at least three feet of foam around their frames, Epp said.
Jerke and Sons, of Sioux Falls, was the company operating the cranes used to remove the domes. Jerke and Sons hired Cipher Imaging, of Sioux Falls, to fly a small drone -- a remote-controlled aircraft -- around the construction site Thursday to record the removal of the domes.
It's the first time the company has ever used a drone to record its work, according to Ted Jerke, the company's vice president.
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 three new, light-up domes will cost a total of about $480,000, according to Eric Amel, an architect with the Minneapolis-based firm designing the renovation for the city.
The largest of the new domes will be approximately 35 feet tall, and will be flanked on both sides by decorative turrets, which will cost a total of about $173,000, and by two new smaller domes farther out toward the corners of the building.
In the second phase of the renovation, 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. A new city hall is planned in southern downtown Mitchell.