Committee offers further explanation of decision to forgo Palace projects

Members of the city of Mitchell's Events Center Building Committee are offering further explanation of their decision to rule out a Corn Palace renovation, expansion or addition.

Members of the city of Mitchell's Events Center Building Committee are offering further explanation of their decision to rule out a Corn Palace renovation, expansion or addition.

The committee issued a press release in November to announce that it was moving beyond the Corn Palace options. Since then, persistent questions from the public have made it apparent that more explanation is needed, committee members said recently.

The primary reason for ruling out a Corn Palace renovation or expansion, according to committee members and officials from Puetz Corporation, is that neither project could meet all three committee goals of increasing seating capacity to at least 5,000, increasing floor space to at least 30,000 square feet, and maintaining a budget of $15 million or less.

"We looked a number of ways of how you could potentially do it, but in the end you're spending your budget easily and getting a building where you don't meet your seating capacity or your floor-space requirements," said Mark Puetz, of Puetz Corporation.

Jon Schmitz, also of Puetz Corporation, said the cost estimates for Corn Palace project designs hit $15 million even before the seating or floor space goals were met.


"We were at the $15 million," Schmitz said. "So, if our range is 15 to 17, and we kind of tossed that around, we haven't met our criteria. We can't get the seating requirements, we can't get the floor space requirements. We don't gain anything."

A renovation in particular could not meet the committee's goals even if the budget were higher, committee members and Puetz officials said.

Their November press release said a renovation could only increase the Palace's seating from 3,200 to 3,800, and its floor space from 9,400 square feet to 14,400. Neither improvement would meet the committee's goals of at least 5,000 seats and at least 30,000 square feet of floor space, which are the levels the committee views as necessary to attract a significant number of lost events and new events to Mitchell.

"To try to fit it in 'the box' didn't work, specifically" Puetz said. "The box would've had to have gotten bigger."

An expansion of the Corn Palace could achieve the seating and floor space goals, but not for $15 million or less, according to the committee and Puetz officials.

"You may be spending $5 million or $10 million more," Puetz said.

Additionally, Puetz officials said, the eastern two-thirds of the building -- "everything from the lobby, back" -- would have to be removed and the building shut down for 18 to 24 months. During that construction period, not just the Corn Palace but also the area immediately around it would be off-limits to the public.

An expanded Corn Palace also would have to meet modern construction codes, said Puetz officials, who said they feared code-related problems.


"If you start digging into that building and you're removing a good portion of the roof, you have to be careful about what you're really doing," Puetz said, "because you then need to be testing what the load capacity is for those roof trusses, and if those don't meet current code, you may end up with a condemned building."

The columns that hold up the Corn Palace roof would also be cause for concern in an expansion project, Puetz said.

"If you were to expand the box itself, you'd have to change those columns in one fashion or another. Because if you go up to create more seats, you have to put in deeper footings and greater-size columns, and that creates a whole other issue of cost and feasibility of a project like that."

Puetz officials said other problems could arise with the soil beneath the Corn Palace and the surrounding area, which likely was not tested or prepared to today's standards when the Palace was built in 1921.

Besides a renovation or expansion of the Corn Palace, another option that was considered was building a new arena and adjoining it to a side of the Corn Palace. That option was ruled out in part because of a concern about snow loads.

"Say you had a new building next to it that extended the Corn Palace," said Herm Harms, of Puetz Corporation. "If you left that old roof in place, which we anticipated trying to do to meet the budget, (the structural engineers) basically said it wouldn't handle all the snow load from the new structure."

Building a new arena separate and across the street from the Corn Palace would eliminate the snow-load concern. For that and other reasons, the committee and Puetz Corporation are now considering two designs for a freestanding building that could be built near the Corn Palace or anywhere else on an area about the size of a city block.

Committee members said they will first consider sites directly across the street to the south, east and northeast of the Palace. The area to the north was ruled out because it would be difficult to fit an arena there, and City Hall, which is attached to the north side of the Palace, would have to be relocated.


Another factor that led committee members and Puetz Corporation toward designing a freestanding structure was a desire to maintain the functionality of the Corn Palace, Harms said.

"For what events they have in there now, it functions to a limited extent," Harms said. "Do you actually throw money to take that functionality away, and then try to put it back in a new building?

"We saw that you could put the new building across the street from it, spend the $15 million on a new building, and still keep the functionality of the Corn Palace."

Another benefit of building a new, separate arena is the potential to free up the Corn Palace for more tourism-related activities, according to committee chairman and City Councilman Allen Lepke.

A criticism of a past proposal for a freestanding arena was that the cost of maintaining two structures -- the Corn Palace and a second arena -- would be too great. But Puetz said the cost of expanding the Corn Palace to meet the seating and floor-space goals would exceed the cost of maintaining separate structures.

"You will spend more to try to make that Corn Palace functional with your three requirements of budget, seating and floor space than you will ever spend on utility of two different buildings."

In the end, Puetz said, the decision to rule out a Corn Palace renovation or addition -- and especially an expansion -- was easy.

"We can build a new building for $15 million, and we don't have to go through all the issues of demo, and reinforcing two walls while the other two walls aren't there, minus a roof," he said. "The complexities are just so much more, and they add up extremely quickly. For us it was an easy thing to say, 'Yes, there's no way functionally we can do this for $15 million.' "

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