City wants Corn Palace board to take on bigger role

People take part in the Corn Palace Festival on Saturday night along North Main Street in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Corn Palace Entertainment Board will be transitioning to a new process of how it serves as a governing body for Mitchell's biggest tourist attraction.

City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, who is serving as the Corn Palace's interim director as well, revealed some of the changes that the mayor is seeking to implement during Tuesday’s meeting at City Hall, which revolve around shifting more responsibility to the board.

“The intention of the changes is to get this board to flow more smoothly and allow the board to have more responsibility,” Ellwein said. “One thing that we want to make sure is that we’re having this board review those contracts pertaining to the Corn Palace Festival entertainment and other things.”

Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the Corn Palace Entertainment Board’s governing process should mimic the format of the Golf and Cemetery Board and the Parks and Recreation Board.

“You are a semi-governing body of the Corn Palace, and your decisions should come from you,” Everson said. “And those recommendations and decisions you make will be brought to the City Council by the Corn Palace director. If you’re not wanting to implement these things, then we don’t need the board.”


Upon reviewing the board and its functions, a shared concern between Everson and Ellwein centered around the board’s slow moving process of choosing the entertainment lineup for upcoming Corn Palace Festivals.

“I think we’ve waited too long to get entertainment set up before the festival, and the way I see it is we should have those discussions and be looking toward planning for next year’s festival already,” Everson said.

Ellwein emphasized the importance of narrowing down the festival’s entertainment acts and music artists sooner than later, as she noted many music artists are already booking for the upcoming year. Ellwein said a representative of Romeo Entertainment -- the company the city utilizes to book the acts for the festival -- told her the city is missing out on a large amount of entertainment opportunities each year due to the prolonged timeline it previously followed.

Ellwein said the city is in the process of reviewing the contract with Romeo Entertainment, which will then be reviewed by the board within the next few months. As soon as the agreement is reviewed and decided upon, Ellwein said the board will begin discussing the list of entertainment options for the 2020 Palace Festival.

As Tuesday’s board meeting marked the first without former Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt, who resigned in late August, Board member Susan Kiepke asked for an updated timeline of when the city anticipates it will hire a new Corn Palace Director.

“I think in the past there has been a lack of communication, and I hope everyone is going to be on the same page moving forward,” Kiepke said.

In response, Everson said the city will be accepting applications until Sept. 24, and he expects to fill the vacancy by Dec. 1.

In addition, City Attorney Justin Johnson provided a brief overview of the provisions that will change moving forward. The first provision included switching the timeline of when the appointment of new board members takes place from. The board's rules call for new members to be appointed in July, but that provision hasn't been followed for “quite some time,” Johnson said. He suggested appointments be made in October.


The other changes include allowing the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce's appointee to have an unlimited term limit. That position is currently held by Chamber Director Sonya Moller. The term length will remain the same for the seven citizen members, who can serve up to two, three-year terms. City leaders also intend to discuss whether the Corn Palace director should be a sitting member of the Corn Palace board, which is a rarity among the city's committees.

Palace Festival discussion

The board also held a brief discussion regarding this year’s Corn Palace Festival. Kiepke said the lack of attendance for the entertainment events was disappointing. The music entertainment at the Freedom Stage -- which was located in the Corn Palace Plaza throughout the five-day festival -- saw poor crowd, she said.

Ellwein said she's been looking for ways to improve the entertainment at the Freedom Stage, and noted she was introduced to Mitchell resident and musician James Kropenske. Kropenske has met country music artists and jammers during his time wintering in Texas and recently hosted some Winter Texans during Corn Palace Festival week for a jam in Mitchell. Recently, he pitched a proposal to host a two-to-three day jam inside the Corn Palace or at the Freedom Stage.

“With the success we’ve had performing at all of the places we have in the past, I feel that it could be a great opportunity,” Kropenske said.

Considering the lack of attendance the live music events suffered this year, Kropenske said the Texas Jammers could help revitalize the free entertainment.

“I think we could bring some excitement back through the style of music we play,” Kropenske 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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