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Published July 29, 2013, 10:20 AM

Rallying behind a Corn Palace plan

After years — decades, really — of debate and hand-wringing over what to do about the Corn Palace in Mitchel, S.D., a plan is in place, most of the funding is in place, and it appears that maybe even the support is in place.

By: The Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic,

After years — decades, really — of debate and hand-wringing over what to do about the Corn Palace in Mitchel, S.D., a plan is in place, most of the funding is in place, and it appears that maybe even the support is in place. Will something finally get done to modernize the Corn Palace, move city offices out of the adjacent City Hall, and convert the City Hall space to tourism-themed exhibit space?

It appears so, though anything could happen. Judging by the many stops, starts and stumbles we’ve seen Corn Palace improvement or replacement plans suffer, we’re not ready to say this newest plan is in the clear yet. But we do sense something different about this one.

In case you missed the news, the Mitchell City Council recently approved a two-phase, $7.175 million proposal to improve the Corn Palace and convert much of the attached City Hall building into exhibit space. City offices will move to a new city hall that is proposed to be built in the southern part of the downtown district.

Much of the funding for the plan is already in place. Last winter, the City Council sold $13.9 million in bonds and earmarked $6.5 million for the Corn Palace project, $2.6 million for a new city hall, $2.5 million to add a second ice sheet to the Mitchell Activities Center (a project that is being built), and $2.3 million for an expansion and renovation of the Mitchell Public Library.

With that kind of dollar power already secured and some specific plans formulated, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Corn Palace project might falter.

The two-phase plan calls for up to $4.2 million in upgrades to the Palace in the first phase, including new light-up domes, which will have LED lights with the ability to change color, plus larger exterior murals with improved lighting and large windows that will open to a walk-out balcony above the marquee, and numerous other changes.

The second phase will cost nearly $3 million. Changes to the City Hall building in that phase include a renovated entryway with a new cover, as well as space for exhibits and a theater inside to show a movie about the Corn Palace’s history. New bathrooms, better elevator access and an improved auxiliary gym on the second floor are also in phase two.

We’ve seen the impact of relatively inexpensive, agriculture-themed, interactive exhibits this season at the Corn Palace. Those include a corn shelling and grinding exhibit, and a tractor and combine cab that kids can pretend to drive. The exhibits have been big hits and have improved the Corn Palace experience for families.

Having seen such big impact from such little investment, we worry about spending millions of dollars on aesthetic changes to the Palace. Those changes aren’t likely to produce the bang for the city’s buck that, for example, a simple corn sheller already has. Yet, we also recognize that this Corn Palace — the city’s third, built in 1921 — is getting dated. Investments in the building must be made every so often to keep it fresh for the next generation.

So, perhaps it’s time for all of us to rally behind this plan. It’s an opportunity to finally turn talk into action, and it’ll modernize the Corn Palace for the 21st century and better position it to continue drawing thousands of tourists per year.

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