The city of Mitchell is continuing its quest to fulfill another major step in developing the Corn Palace Plaza.
City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein is leading the project for the city and presented phase II of the plaza design plan during Monday’s City Council meeting. The plan features the addition of a shade structure, a brand new east entryway and state-of-the-art stage. The estimated cost of the project will be roughly $500,000, Ellwein said.
Construction of the project is intended to begin by the fall and wrap up by the spring of 2020 prior to next year’s tourist season.
“Our old way of having a street next to the Corn Palace that allowed people to drive by and see the building from all angles lacked an appeal for people to further explore the building and its surroundings,” Ellwein said. “I’ve watched how the plaza has been used in many ways since its construction, and this is the next big step.”
What was once a street next to Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction continues its transformation into a unique plaza.
When the landscape architects met with city entities and community groups to seek input for design suggestions, Ellwein said the overall consensus was to create a space that enticed tourists and locals to get out of their vehicles and explore the plaza. Confluence, a Sioux Falls architecture and landscape design firm, was chosen for the plaza design.
“It gives people different vantage points and perspectives of the Corn Palace,” Ellwein said. “It’s not going to block the view of the Corn Palace, but it provides people with more unique opportunities to experience the Corn Palace.”
The shade structure will include a misting system to help cool off plaza-goers during the hot summer months, and its width will stretch across the entire grass area in between the sidewalks surrounding the central section of the plaza.
The stage will be located on the east side of the plaza abutting against the new east entryway along Lawler Street, which Ellwein said is also intended to help control foot traffic for events and performances, along with providing more security measures such as monitoring alcohol leaving the premises.
“The shade structure will have some pavers, landscaping features and ornamental trees surrounding it,” Ellwein said. “When it’s 100 degrees outside and there are events going on, people can now have a place to cool off without getting soaking wet.”
According to Ellwein, the seating and standing space between the shade structure and the east stage will have a similar capacity of Hitchcock Park’s Band Shell.
“We will be able to host a lot more activities and events with the stage setup,” Ellwein said, noting possible opportunities to hold tailgating events for Dakota Wesleyan University football games.
In addition, a unique red rock displaying historical information on the Corn Palace and other city attractions like the Prehistoric Indian Village will be placed on the east side of the stage, directly next to the far east entryway.
“It could really help tourists and travelers explore more of the attractions the city has to offer,” Ellwein said. “Now that we know Mitchell is the most visited city, excluding Rapid City and Sioux Falls, I feel like we need to educate more people about the interesting history we have in Mitchell.”
The city has budgeted $350,000 in the current fiscal year for the second phase of the plaza design. The project will be funded in part through the city’s entertainment tax money, but Ellwein said the city is seeking opportunities for local sponsorship that would include naming rights, which would help fund some of the remaining $150,000.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson has expressed his support for the second phase of the plaza design, highlighting the stage area as a key feature to tap into the potential of the plaza.
“I think a stage will add a lot to the plaza, and it will make it more palatable for its use,” Everson said. “We will have a place for more events and entertainment."
While Everson noted there were mixed feeling of implementing the plaza nearly two years ago, he’s noticed growing support since its construction.
“The vast majority of the comments I hear on the plaza are good, and it seems people are liking it,” Everson said. “We are going to keep working on the plaza and focus on ways to improve it.”
Phase I of the plaza consisted of the main features such as the green space, wiring, conduits and the streetscape. According to Ellwein, phase I of the plaza project has laid the foundation for a smooth process to implement the designs included in phase II.
“We already have conduits running underneath the plaza, along with staging the electrical needs for the new stage,” Ellwein said. “So it’s a matter of implementing the new features.”