Corn Palace study focuses on existing structure

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Like a lot of Minnesota residents, Tom Meyer has stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace. Unlike all the others, Meyer will play a role in the future of Mitchell's best-known landmarks. He's a founding principal in Meyer Sche...

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Like a lot of Minnesota residents, Tom Meyer has stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace.

Unlike all the others, Meyer will play a role in the future of Mitchell's best-known landmarks.

He's a founding principal in Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle, the Minneapolis firm that was hired to study the Corn Palace and see how it can be improved. The firm will be paid $115,000 for the study from a combination of sources including public funds, and Meyer said the contract is "99.9 percent" agreed to with Mitchell officials and should be signed soon.

He said he believes the Corn Palace, the third structure of that name in Mitchell's history, can and should be preserved.

"We're going to start with the assumption: What can this existing building do?" Meyer said. "It looks like that building has more miles in it.


"What we felt going into the interview was, if the building can be saved, that would be very much the best outcome, because it has the authenticity of the actual thing.

"When you have the real thing, you want to be very careful about destroying that and building another. People want to see the original, authentic thing, not a replica. That's the starting premise."

The study will focus on three things, he said: Existing structures, what condition they're in and what capacity they have to change.

It will also examine the eight or nine blocks around the Corn Palace and see how a "park or plaza or outdoor Corn Palace function" might be created.

All this work would serve as a way to "revitalize Main Street," Meyer said.

He said the Corn Palace needs to have a high-quality museum exhibit centered on historic photos.

"The community has all those great photos of past Corn Palaces," Meyer said. "We propose a first-class exhibit centered around the photos and more. That's really an exciting component."

The firm will examine the structure of the building, which opened in 1921, state and local codes and other issues and see how the Corn Palace can be adapted to the 21st century.


Locals who are part of a Tourism/Corn Palace Area Development Committee assembled by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce have asked to find a way to create a separate, significant gift shop not in the arena, and a "real, more significant theater" to show a filmed history of the Corn Palace and other films. More seating and better sightlines are also sought, he said.

In the end, Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle will offer a master plan, Meyer said.

"No final design, but some real clear ideas and budget numbers," he said.

He feels the study can be completed by the end of the year or early 2012.

"That's enough time for us to do our work," Meyer said, but he noted the locals who are involved will set the schedule.

"I think it would be best if we do it in three or four months, because we will have a sort of continuity," Meyer said. "People won't forget it. Best to keep at it and get it done."

He said his "team" for the project consists of specialists who work for Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle as well as nonemployees who are consultants and colleagues.

Arena specialist Don Eyberg will help assess what kind of facility is sought, needed and possible.


"He's very much an expert in that," Meyer said.

Jim Roe, who specializes in interpretive and exhibit planning, is a perfect fit for this type of project, he said.

"What he does is understand the stories around each community or each institution and work with the people to help them tell that story in the best way," Meyer said.

In the end, the firm's goal is to boost attendance (which has been down significantly this summer), help educate or entertain people and brand the facility in people's minds.

Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle did similar work at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis. Meyer said that historic building is now alive with people spending time in it, and tour buses arrive daily. Students come to tour it and learn there, he said.

Meyer first visited the Corn Palace with his family about six or seven years ago on their way to the Black Hills.

"The Corn Palace got us off the freeway at that point," he said.

He returned to the Corn Palace last winter to see what the "problem is and the opportunity is" and came back again this spring. Meyer said he realizes how much it means to the people of Mitchell and South Dakota.


"That's what I have totally gathered in our discussions in our group," he said. "I didn't realize it had been part of the community for so long and it's still so central in term of sports -- school sports are important to any community -- and the prom and all that stuff.

"A lot of community pride is wrapped up in the Corn Palace."

Meyer said after the study is complete, his firm would like to be involved in whatever construction projects might arise.

"We would absolutely love to do that," he said. "This first part is very exciting and important work, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. But that isn't part of our contract at this point."

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