Scaled-down Corn Palace plan presented for $10-12M

Less is more -- more possible, that is. That's the mantra of the effort to improve and expand the Corn Palace, the Mitchell City Council was told during a special meeting Monday night at City Hall. Next Generation Corn Palace Committee Chairman D...

Less is more -- more possible, that is.

That's the mantra of the effort to improve and expand the Corn Palace, the Mitchell City Council was told during a special meeting Monday night at City Hall. Next Generation Corn Palace Committee Chairman Doug Dailey discussed a proposal to spend between $10 million and $12 million on an expansion and improvements to the city-owned facility.

That's less than one-third of the cost of a plan unveiled in January, when a $35 million project, not counting land acquisitions and other expenses, was revealed. That proposal was unfurled during a meeting at the Corn Palace with a slide presentation from Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle, a Minneapolis design firm, which was delivered to a crowd gathered on a snowy winter night.

On Monday night, the weather was much warmer, the crowd was smaller and the plan greatly reduced.

"Right now we're targeting a pared-down version for the Corn Palace," Dailey said.


The committee asked for $5,000 to draft a short-term plan for Corn Palace improvements, and the council gave initial approval to fund that. The study that resulted in the plan unveiled in January cost $115,000, with the city funding most of that.

This new, more modest study for a small Corn Palace and surrounding area project calls for hiring a structural engineer to see if the adjoined City Hall could be modified to become part of the Corn Palace, hiring an estimator to determine how much various projects would cost and employing Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle to come up with a new overall plan.

Under the $10 million to $12 million proposal, City Hall would be renovated and become part of the Corn Palace, a streetscape project would improve the area around the palace, the building's façade would be updated, including adding street-level mosaic tiles, an observation area to view the murals, improved lighting and a new dome.

The ceiling tiles in the Corn Palace arena would be removed to show the decorative structural elements beneath them.

Dailey said the committee knows the first plan was excessive.

"All the bells and whistles are all probably too much," he said.

Councilman Dan Allen said he didn't want the committee to come back in a few months and ask for additional dollars to pay for more plans.

"We need to say, 'That's it. Let's put something together,'" Allen said. "I'm going to refuse you. We need some answers."


"We don't want to keep coming back and ask for more money," Dailey said.

He said the goal is to come up with a proposal that is best for all and will gain community acceptance.

Councilman Travis Carpenter urged the committee and the council to look at what it wants to do to the iconic building, not how much it wants to spend. Carpenter, who noted he is leaving the council at the start of July, said if the council approves a $15 million budget, that is how much the committee will plan to spend.

Slow steps are called for, he said, but progress needs to start.

"We're not going to be able to turn a key and change the Corn Palace right now," he said.

Councilman Ken Tracy said he wants the committee to focus on what it wants to achieve, not look at how much it can spend.

"We plan to continue to work within the possibilities but at the same time, we want to do it right," Dailey said.

Councilman Mel Olson said a funding plan should be discussed during budget hearings in August. It's still unknown how much relocating City Hall will cost, he said, other unexpected expenses may arise and there are other big-ticket items people support. One thing is for sure, Olson said: City Hall must be relocated to start the process.


Councilman Jeff Smith said he likes the idea of phasing in improvements and an expansion of the Corn Palace.

"I honestly think that's a great approach," he said.

"We still think there needs to be a long-term vision," Dailey said.

He said the city should add property near the Corn Palace to allow it to create a public area for performances and other events. Dailey said a scaled-down corn tower, which was part of the plan revealed in January, and additional arena space will remain under discussion by the committee.

Councilman Marty Barington, who serves on the committee, said the "ultimate goal" is to present a long-term plan with several phases for improving the Corn Palace and drawing more people here.

"Hey, there is more future to the Corn Palace and not just phase one," Barington said. "Our committee is not here to ask for money to waste money."

Mayoral candidate Tara Volesky said she is glad to see a less-expensive project under discussion.

"I've been obsessed with this," Volesky said.


She said a $5 million investment could improve downtown greatly. Rapid City, which added downtown events and a public square in recent years, has seen a marked growth in business and activity, Volesky said.

Carpenter said he appreciates Volesky wanting to offer ideas, but he said there are six candidates for mayor and all of them have ideas. She can't expect her proposals to carry more weight than the other candidates, he said.

Dan Seftner, president and CEO of Destination Rapid City, will speak at City Hall Council Chambers at 6:30 p.m. Monday, before the council meeting.

Volesky said the city should hold off on any decisions until it listens to Seftner and studies the Rapid City development effort, which she said should be replicated here.

$20 million available for projects

Mayor Sebert, Smith, Barington and Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson have been meeting to discuss how much money the city can invest in the Corn Palace and other capital projects, Smith said.

"I think it's time to start talking about the numbers," Barington said. "Somebody's got to take the first step, a leap of faith. And it's on our table."

Wilson said the city could, through a combination of funding sources, come up with $20 million or more to fund the Corn Palace and other projects.


She said the city's annual debt-service payments totaled $2.5 million in 2007 but are now $1.4 million, since several projects have been retired or re-issued. The city continues to pay off debt, she said, and its borrowing capacity will increase.

Wilson said the city could "comfortably" finance $12 million more in debt over a 20-year period, with annual payments of $850,000.

"I'm using conservative figures," she said.

A business improvement district (BID) would generate another $4 million to $5 million. A BID is a self-created taxing district, such as hotels and motels adding a tax to their room rates and using the new revenue to help pay for the project. It could only be created by the agreement of businesses within the proposed district.

"You would not bond up to the limit," Wilson said. She said she favors keeping at least $1 million to $2 million in bonding capacity in reserve.

In addition, the city now has $1.7 million in reserve for a capital project, Tracy said.

  • The City Hall Relocation Committee is awaiting a report, including an estimate and a rendering on converting the Mitchell Technical Institute's north campus into City Hall, from Puetz Corp.

The numbers may be available by the end of the month, Tracy said.

  • Councilmen Phil Carlson and Greg McCurry were absent. Sebert came in after the meeting started and did not immediately chair the meeting. Smith, the council president, led the meeting until Sebert took over.
  • The next special meeting will be held on Monday, June 11. It will start at 7 p.m., a half hour earlier than regular council meetings and the previous special meetings.
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