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Busy sports weekend brings thousands to Mitchell, helping drive sales tax revenue

City leaders say Mitchell's central location a major factor for consistently drawing large crowds

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Fans watch the final game of the Hanson Classic girl's high school basketball event on Saturday night at the Corn Palace. According to Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway, the event drew over 3,000 people to the Corn Palace on Saturday.
(Sam Fosness / Mitchell Republic)
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For South Dakota sports enthusiasts, Mitchell was the place to be over the weekend.

From the Hanson Classic girl’s basketball event at the Corn Palace to the Jerry Opbroek Wrestling tournament, the busy weekend of sports drew thousands of spectators from across the state who spent their time and money in Mitchell, helping boost the city’s sales tax revenue.

City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said the jam-packed weekend of sports that falls in mid-January each year has shown to have a big economic impact on almost every industry.

“We learned that 50% of the sales tax we receive comes from people who live between 30 and 120 minutes away,” she said. “We have found people like coming to Mitchell for sports and events, and that’s why it’s so important we continue maintaining our facilities to handle events.”

Looking at the city’s monthly sales tax reports, it is evident the busy Saturday of sports has a major impact on the sales tax revenue. According to the city’s 2020 tax reports, Mitchell collected roughly $675,000 in sales tax collections for retail trade, making it the highest revenue-generating month in 2020.

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Alongside the girl’s high school basketball event and wrestling tournament on Saturday, there was a full slate of hockey games taking place at the Mitchell Activities Center for the annual Pink the Rink. And each of the sporting events held over the weekend saw big crowds.

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Fans packed the bleachers on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, for the finals at the Jerry Opbroek Invitational in Mitchell.
Action from the Jerry Opbroek Invitational on Saturday in Mitchell.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is still having an impact on spectator attendance for sporting events, Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway said Saturday’s Hanson Classic basketball tournament brought a little over 3,000 to the Corn Palace, which he noted is near pre-pandemic levels.

“We made just over $8,000 in concessions alone during the Hanson Classic basketball event. Anywhere you eat at a restaurant today, you will see crowds,” Greenway said. “Coming to the Corn Palace is a special experience for fans and players. We need to keep that uniqueness and novelty of it going strong to keep bringing large crowds, which directly helps our restaurants, stores and local businesses.”

Saturday’s wrestling tournament and hockey games also drew large crowds similar to previous years, according to event officials.

Ellwein said Mitchell’s ability to host such a busy weekend of sports is what helps Mitchell command a larger sales tax base compared to other like-sized cities in the state.

“Whatever we can do to continue being that regional hub for sporting events and entertainment is important because it plays a huge role in helping Mitchell command a large sales tax than most cities similar to our size,” Ellwein said.

Over the past few years, Mitchell has collected a little over $12 million in annual sales tax revenue, nearly double the amount of similar-sized cities, such as Pierre and Spearfish. Looking at the most recent sales tax collections for South Dakota’s larger cities, Pierre — a city with about a population of nearly 14,000 — brought in a little over $8.7 million in 2020, while Spearfish collected roughly $9.3 million in sales tax to close out 2020.

Ellwein pointed to the central location of Mitchell as a major factor that helps the city command significantly larger sales tax revenue than Pierre and Spearfish, for example. While the state’s capital city, Pierre, is located in the north-central portion of South Dakota, it’s much further away from the state’s most populated cities along the eastern half. With Sioux Falls — the state’s largest city — Brookings, Yankton and Huron, all being within less than 120 miles of Mitchell, Greenway said it’s a major factor that helps the sporting events draw such big crowds.

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“We’re definitely fortunate for our geography,” Greenway said.

Jean Smith was among the spectators who trekked to Mitchell this past weekend to watch her niece play basketball. For Smith, who resides near Huron, Mitchell’s central location, paired with the spectacle of the Corn Palace experience is what she said helps bring her family to her niece's sporting events when hosted in Mitchell.

“Mitchell just is in the right spot for us and many others in the area to come watch games. It’s not too far from home, and Sioux Falls is a short hour away,” she 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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