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City leaders mulling Palace expansion design options ranging up to $40 million

The Mitchell City Council was presented with the three Corn Palace expansion design options that architects drummed up

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Mayor Bob Everson, right, follows along as David Greusel, of Convergence Design, points out features in Plan A of Corn Palace renovations during a city council work session on Monday night in the City Council Chambers.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Architects leading the Corn Palace expansion study unveiled three designs to the Mitchell City Council on Monday, but the two favorites come with a price tag hovering around $40 million.

After spending several months developing design options for the council to consider, architects David Greusel and Robin Miller broke down three designs they recently drummed up. Key features of the two designs — option B and option C — that emerged as clear favorites entailed adding on to the north side of the building where City Hall's parking lot is located, increasing floor space for a total of three basketball courts and replacing all of the existing seats with retractable seating.

“Some significant things in option B would be adding footprint on the east side of the building, and we’re also adding footprint by proposing a new structure that would be located on the current north parking lot,” Greusel said, noting the new structure on the north side of the building would be capable of holding the city’s offices.

While the council initially had a goal to explore increasing seating in the Corn Palace without having to expand the footprint, it was made clear Monday night that the building will have to expand in order to increase the existing 3,500 seating capacity to around 4,200, which would allow the city-owned venue to host a wider variety of events.

That led Mayor Bob Everson to request scrapping the first $18 million design — the only design that stayed within the building's footprint — because it could only provide roughly 2,700 seats, about half of the remaining two designs.

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The designs that were presented are a product of a $120,000 study led by a pair of longtime architects. Greusel has designed a litany of venues and sports facilities, including Major League Baseball stadiums such as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ PNC Park and Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park. Miller has several decades of architectural experience, including designing facilities in Mitchell and other cities around the area.

For design option B, which is estimated to cost $36 million, Greusel said it would increase the seating capacity to roughly 4,200. In addition, the floor space would increase to 22,000 square feet, more than doubling the existing floor space that’s primarily used for sporting events and concerts. That equates to three basketball courts when seats are fully retracted.

The existing stage along the Corn Palace floor would also be demolished to make way for a two-level retractable row of seats as part of designs B and C.

Several notable features in design option B were VIP lounge areas and balcony seats on the top floor, which Greusel said could provide the city with a new revenue stream that has been shown to significantly increase the “bottom line” at sports complexes he’s designed over the years.

"You could have a VIP club lounge with a view of the event floor, where you could have higher end food and beverage services," he said of the VIP area proposed to be built along the northeast side of the court. "We're proposing to reintroduce the balcony seating with cantilever seats that would come over the second-floor walkway."

As for the building additions in option B, plans call for a "pedestrian plaza" entry way on the northeast corner of the building abutting Lawler Street.

“Having a new entry there would be a great convenience for people parking in those areas,” Greusel said.

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Robin Miller, with Schemmer, a Sioux Falls-based architctural engineering firm, discuss the project timeline of Corn Palace renovation talks during a city council work session on Monday night in the City Council Chambers.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

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Option C features

Option C is the costliest design among the three presented on Monday, coming in at roughly $42 million. The design entailed a mixture of retractable and fixed seating wrapping around all sides of the basketball court, forming a bowl-like setup.

The respective design would bring the seating capacity to 4,900, along with increasing the floor space to 22,000 square feet, equating to three courts. The existing armory gymnasium on the second floor is one feature all three designs kept in the same location.

However, Greusel highlighted the “biggest difference” in option C is the additions on the north and south side of the court that would bring a mixture of retractable and fixed seating.

“It would create a more 360 degree arena-like seating bowl configuration,” Greusel said, pointing to an old 1923 photograph showing the old Corn Palace setup that formed a bowl-like shape surrounding the entire basketball court.

In addition, option C would expand along the south side of the building protruding slightly into the Corn Palace Plaza. Greusel noted the bump out could be uniquely incorporated into the plaza, such as serving as a shaded area.

Both designs — B and C — would add on to the northwest side of the Corn Palace, which is where City Hall and the city of Mitchell’s existing office space is located. The building additions in both designs stretch all the way out to East Seventh Avenue, which would eliminate the parking lot next to City Hall.

Greusel indicated he’s heard “very little opposition” to moving city offices around.

Another shared feature of options B and C was constructing a retail gift shop space into the northwest side of the building that would allow the floor space of the Corn Palace to be open during the summer. As of now, the gift shop takes up the entire Corn Palace floor during the summer, eliminating opportunities for it to be used.

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“We’d like to create a permanent space for retail, so you can use the event floor year-round,” he said.

While the two designs that were dubbed as favorites drastically alter the entire interior of the Corn Palace, the exterior wouldn't be altered aside from the additions.

As for what would happen to the interior and exterior corn murals under the favored design options, Miller said the exterior murals could remain in the same location. With the proposed additions of the building, Miller said it provides an opportunity to add more exterior corn murals along the Corn Palace. However, the interior murals would “have to be moved around” Greusel noted.

“B and C double the amount of wall space on the exterior that you could do murals around the entire Corn Palace,” Miller said.

Implementing community suggestions

To understand the community’s vision to improve the Corn Palace experience, Miller and Greusel met with groups of community members, local sports figures and business leaders in recent months. Miller detailed some of the main suggestions that were shared among the groups, which included adding more flexible event space, increasing seating, replacing all of the existing seating, adding two multipurpose rooms and box seating.

“We heard the current seating on the east side of the court is not working. It’s too narrow and too tight, and I can confirm all of those statements are true,” Greusel said.

The study also revealed a serious need to repair many parts of the Corn Palace.

Miller said there is about $7 to $8 million worth of building repairs that are needed. The two architects will present a final draft of the designs in a few months.

In response to the council's question asking what designs they recommend, Greusel pointed to options B and C as "substantial upgrades" that would drastically improve seating, events and its "financial performance." Miller chose option C, noting it costs the same as option B when broken down by cost per seat.

For Council President Kevin McCardle, pursuing such a large-scale Corn Palace expansion project makes the most sense right now considering the amount of structural and electrical repairs the architects say the building needs.

"Regardless of the renovation and expansion plans, we need to make serious repairs to the building. It makes the most sense to go all in at once," he said.

Everson closed the meeting by emphasizing the designs are merely being explored as part of the $120,000 study. No action has been taken on pursuing any of the plans presented.

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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