City leaders are thinking big for the future of the Corn Palace, as discussions to expand and renovate Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction have surfaced.

For decades, the goal of bringing more events to the Corn Palace has long been a focus for city officials, but the existing layout inside the city-owned facility has stood in the way. However, city leaders are seeking to change that hindrance, as talks of a future Corn Palace expansion and interior renovation project kicked off at the recent City Council work session.

While only in the discussion stages, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the project could bring major opportunities that are not possible under the existing setup, noting it could be anywhere from five to 10 years before plans advance and materialize.

“It would give us a lot more flexibility and floor space to host more events such as a state dart tournament and others,” Everson said. “We’re looking at how to make the best utilization of the space that we have, because we know we can't expand north or south since the main support beams are positioned that way in the building.”

However, the Corn Palace allows for an expansion on the east and west sides of the building. During the council’s discussion, Everson pitched the idea of an eastward expansion, which would bring additional floor space to attract a myriad of new events that the Corn Palace could host on an annual basis.

Dating back several decades, Mitchell used to be the host site of the South Dakota state dart tournament. But as the event outgrew the facility space Mitchell had to offer, it led to the loss of hosting the tournament. With the economic impact a state dart tournament has on a host community, Everson said the layout of the renovation design surrounding the center basketball court could bring an event of that size back to Mitchell.

“That is just one of several events and state tournaments we would hope the project brings. Those types of events have a huge impact on our local economy as a whole, not just the Corn Palace,” Everson said.

Renovation design, seating rearrangements

While considering interior renovations and seating restructuring, City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said the rough draft of the remodeling design entailed doing away with the soft seats along the west side of the basketball court, and replacing them with movable bleachers known as “telescopic seats.” Ellwein referenced the layout of the telescopic seats inside the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls as a comparison of what the movable Corn Palace seats would look like.

According to Ellwein, the existing soft seats have experienced issues over the past several years, which sparked some internal discussions of replacement options.

“We’re not really using that theater setup anymore, and the discussion was if we remove the existing theater seating on the concrete steps, and instead add telescopic seating they can be movable so that you're not always locked into that design,” Ellwein said.

The movable bleachers would free up a significant amount of floor space that could allow for another full-sized basketball court next to the existing main court, addressing the city’s need for additional practice space.

Another key feature to the renovation design includes the installation of box seating areas and VIP suites situated along the edges of the walls, overlooking the basketball court in an elevated position.

The suites would serve as private, rentable seating areas for spectators and could also open the door for food and alcohol beverages to be sold during some sporting games and events. The box seating and VIP suites could provide an opportunity for the city-owned facility to cut down on the Corn Palace's annual deficit.

“By creating those box seats and VIP suites, it could be a great potential revenue stream for the Corn Palace,” Ellwein said during the council discussion.

For entertainment events, the expansion could add a swath of seating and standing space for concert goers. Removing the brick stage along the east side of the court where the row of bleachers are currently positioned was another idea that city officials tossed around.

According to Everson, many big name music artists and bands prefer setting up their stage area to fit the layout they prefer. Therefore, Everson said the respective artists playing a show at the Corn Palace could have the ability to configure their stage, rather than being forced to perform on the existing stage.

For City Council President Kevin McCardle, the renovation and expansion may be the key elements to spur more business and aesthetic improvements to downtown Mitchell.

“It’s the centerpiece of our city, and sets the tone for downtown," McCardle said. “We are always looking for ways to improve Main Street and attract new businesses, and a big improvement to the staple of downtown might encourage other business owners to do the same.”

McCardle is already channeling his focus on seeking out potential funding sources to make the future project a reality.

“Now that we have renovated the exterior and the lobby area inside, I think it is time to improve and possibly expand the main court and surrounding seating areas,” he said. “This is our opportunity to compete with the largest cities in the state to host big events in the future.”