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New-look Corn Palace 'pretty darn busy'

One year ago, scores of people gathered to watch the sleek, new domes rise atop Mitchell's Corn Palace. On Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the installation of the new domes, large numbers of visitors could still be seen moving in and out o...

The largest of the three domes is raised and placed on the center of the top of the Corn Palace on Monday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)
The largest of the three domes is raised and placed on the center of the top of the Corn Palace on Monday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)

One year ago, scores of people gathered to watch the sleek, new domes rise atop Mitchell's Corn Palace.

On Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the installation of the new domes, large numbers of visitors could still be seen moving in and out of the city's major tourist attraction or taking family photos alongside the corn statue known as "Cornelius."

As of last Thursday, exactly 126,079 visitors passed through the building's doors so far this tourist season, and both Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt and Mitchell Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Katie Knutson saw the recent $4.7 million renovation as a major factor behind the attendance numbers.

"I'm happy with it," Schmidt said about the attendance numbers in an interview with The Daily Republic last week. "I'm not too sure where we're at compared to the last couple years because of the construction and that kind of stuff, but for it being my first summer here, it seems to be pretty darn busy every single day."

In Schmidt's first year as Corn Palace director, he inherited the new-look building. From the building's signature trio of domes being replaced for approximately $650,000 to the refurbished interior lobby, Schmidt said the recent renovations have brought some families back to Mitchell to see the building for the first time in years.

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While attendance to the Corn Palace is free for all visitors, the tourist attraction and event center was able to generate additional funding in the months of May and June through concession sales. According to a report filed in a recent Mitchell City Council agenda packet, the Corn Palace was able to generate $14,665.93 in concession sales from April 30 to June 3 and another $21,064.31 from June 4 to June 30. From June 18 to June 24, when Corn Palace concession sales generated a high-water mark of $6,463.08, the building was able to bring in 61 cents per visitor.

And Schmidt said those visitors are coming from far and wide to cycle through the Corn Palace doors this summer.

"When you're seeing people from not only the country, but worldwide, with our marketing plan and everything, I think we're doing something right and we can only go up from here," Schmidt said.

One way they Corn Palace has been able to attract additional visitors in 2016 has been a series of new billboards along Interstate 90. Knutson said the 19 Corn Palace billboards were replaced for a cost of approximately $12,000, and she said the attendance at the building has been well worth the investment.

"We have the world's only (Corn Palace), and with the billboards, those are actually what we're hearing people comment 'Gosh, we couldn't pass up the billboards, we had to see it,' " Knutson said.

While the new billboards and recent renovations have done their job to attract out-of-town visitors, the new Corn Palace Education Center has successfully drawn in locals. The education center, which is on the second floor of the Corn Palace, has attracted an average of 775 people per day.

Knutson said the center - which was established as a collaboration between fifth graders at L.B. Williams Elementary School, the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, the CVB and Mitchell Main Street & Beyond - has added a new element to the Corn Palace.

The education center features a "maize maze" and interactive, information displays eared toward younger visitors to the Corn Palace, with the hope it will attract visitors and locals alike.

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Schmidt said it's all of the new features, including the education center and the Oscar Howe Art Gallery, that have combined to make the Corn Palace a different experience than it was prior to the recent renovation.

"I'd say it's a combination of everything," Schmidt said. "I mean, the new renovations have obviously drawn a lot more people in coming to see the Corn Palace."

Visitors weigh in

Outside the Corn Palace on Wednesday, visitors braved the hot sun to take pictures and admire the murals. One of those visitors was Mitchell native Beverly Oberembt, who now lives in Fort Myers, Florida, and hasn't returned to the building since before the renovation.

Oberembt was undecided on whether the building looked better than the variations she's seen throughout the decades, but she did admit she didn't see $4.7 million worth of renovations.

"It's a great new look for a palace, but it's nothing like it has been for years and years," Oberembt said.

Oberembt said the building looked more modern than before, and she suspected visitors who had not seen other variations of the building would likely enjoy the new structure.

One of those visitors was was Ray Rogne, of Austin, Minnesota, who visited the building on a recommendation from his brother. Rogne was impressed with the building, and said he would return if the opportunity presents itself.

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"It's unique," Rogne said. "I would like to go to a basketball game there."

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