Traxler: Updated Corn Palace arena can't be shy about drawing inspiration from Sioux Falls
Column: The Corn Palace is decent but history has a limited appeal for a modern basketball arena
The Hoop City Classic has become a sports tradition in the Mitchell area and South Dakota high school sports.
Since 2015, it has involved games at both the Corn Palace and the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. Players, coaches and fans, along with event organizers, have gotten used to that arrangement, trying to spread around the excitement and grow it larger, mixing a historic basketball venue in the state with one that is state-of-the-art.
But the 2021 event really drove home the contrast between the two venues, especially considering the ongoing discussions about improving the Corn Palace as a sports arena. (Spending most of 2021 writing about the Corn Palace's interesting century of events provided inspiration as well.)
On that front, the Corn Palace shouldn’t be afraid to borrow the best ideas from the Pentagon and make them their own when it comes time to improve Mitchell’s landmark building.
If you’ve read this newspaper closely, you know some of the community’s leaders who are working on this topic are already wise to this. Some of the ideas being discussed include incorporating retractable seating that would make the Palace’s floor space more flexible, plus adding premium seating options and improving the sightlines in the 100-year-old building.
It would be great to see new technology mixed with the historic building, such as new videoboards and lighting, improved locker rooms and corridors that make it easier for teams to get in and out of the building and improve their experience visiting Mitchell. A lot of those improvements would carry over for concerts and other big events, as well.
Players and coaches like competing at the Pentagon, not because it’s located in Sioux Falls, but because the venue is unique and modern. The Corn Palace is unique, but it’s not modern. Players already like the Corn Palace, but an investment in the arena would only make it better.
There are some aspects of the Pentagon that the Corn Palace isn’t going to soon replicate. Mitchell could use eight more full-size basketball courts for hosting tournaments, but the Corn Palace doesn’t have the room for that. Nor is it realistic for Mitchell to start trying to host Division I college basketball games either.
There can be an inferiority complex for Mitchell as it relates to Sioux Falls. But there’s no reason Mitchell shouldn’t take this opportunity to build an arena just as good or better, in a 100-year-old building that already has great history. The consultants and architects Mitchell is working with are probably relishing a chance to make a better arena.
The Palace can't cling to his history to keep it relevant. It must be improved and improved mightily. Right now, it has a difficult time attracting large-scale events and if it stays the same historic venue, or only gets small changes during its facelift, we'll see the transition to other venues as a more regular occurrence.
Aside from updating the building, the one plus the Pentagon has is making big games feel like a big deal, with the smoke and the lighting involved with the starting lineups, the in-house replays and the live statistics in the building, plus part-time employees who are there to help fans have a good experience. Changing that would take some investment from the city of Mitchell but the extra effort can pay off in the overall experience.
Right now, the Corn Palace is historic but a lot of the games feel the same. One caveat: big crowds can change that. There’s nothing like when the building is buzzing over a talented Kernel or Dakota Wesleyan team, or No. 1 and No. 2 meeting in the Hanson Classic.
There is always the hurdle of the cost. It probably won’t be cheap. The Sanford Pentagon cost about $20 million to build. Spending half of that in Mitchell could get the Corn Palace close to many of its goals.
Some will scoff at spending millions on the Corn Palace again. But if Mitchell is committed to the Corn Palace for a second century and bringing key events to town, the investment is worth it.