Court-ordered truce remains in effect to hold Mitchell rodeo at traditional site

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Jul. 12—MITCHELL — Nearly two years into a lawsuit between the volunteer organization that puts on the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo and its landlord, Mitchell's traditional July rodeo will take place on time and at the Horsemen's Sports Arena this week.

It has been a mostly quiet year for the lawsuit between Corn Palace Stampede Inc. and Horsemen's Sports Inc., which owns the grounds. In May, Circuit Court Judge David Knoff approved extending the temporary order in place to allow the 2021 rodeo to take place on the existing site again for 2022. The 51st edition of the rodeo starts Thursday, July 14 with the Xtreme Bulls event, followed by three nights of traditional rodeo events July 15-17.

Corn Palace Stampede argued for an extension of the order that allowed the organization to put on the 2021 event because it has paid its rent for the year and complied with the requirements of the 2021 agreement over the last year.

"The litigation process has continued but will not be completed before the time to begin preparation for and for holding, this rodeo in 2022," said Corn Palace Stampede attorney Jim Davies wrote in February, arguing that the organization he represents should be able to hold the rodeo again.

The current Horsemen's Sports Arena, located on State Highway 37 near Lake Mitchell, is the only site the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo has ever been located, dating back to 1971. Since the lawsuit came to light, Corn Palace Stampede Inc. — the volunteer nonprofit organization that puts on the rodeo — has created a similar organization called the Mitchell Rodeo Foundation, which sought the new lease agreement with the city of Mitchell in late 2021.

In September 2021, the city of Mitchell approved a 20-year lease agreement with the Mitchell Rodeo Foundation, a new nonprofit corporation made up of mostly the same individuals as the Corn Palace Stampede committee, to use about 20 acres of land near the airport for future rodeos. That lease went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, with a 10-year optional available in 2041. The Mitchell Rodeo Foundation is set to rent the city's land for $7,500 per year and Miskimins told the Mitchell City Council that the organization sought to create a "Cadillac" of a rodeo arena in the new location.

"During the course of time up to now, under this lease, (Horsemen's Sports) has had the advantage of utilizing those improvements for their own operations at no cost. (Corn Palace Stampede) now seeks to move on to a new property location and site which it has obtained, and to remove and take the bulk of the improvements with them to that new site," Davies wrote in a February 2022 court filing.

In court documents, the heart of the dispute between Corn Palace Stampede and Horsemen's Sports becomes increasingly clear. Corn Palace Stampede alleges that members of Horsemen's Sports destroyed "boardwalk fences" at the rodeo grounds and altered gates, panels and chutes and then rewelded them in 2020. Horsemen's Sports denies any destruction took place. The fences, Horsemen's Sports said, were merely moved to another location on the grounds.

"This was not the first time the above process was followed by the parties regarding alterations at the subject property," Horsemen's Sports attorney Tim Whalen, of Lake Andes, wrote in a court filing on his clients' behalf. "In the past, if alterations were to occur by the defendants, the parties were allowed to make suggestions, once an agreement was reached, the parties shook hands and the alterations were made."

Because of that, Horsemen's Sports said there was no formal meeting about potential changes at the grounds but came after informal talks with Corn Palace Stampede.

Horsemen's Sports responded that only two individuals were involved with moving the equipment, something of which many members of its organization knew about and that rodeo participants and professionals approved.

The atmosphere between landlord and tenant remains frosty, right down to the sign that arches over the main entrance to the complex. Earlier this year, when the South Dakota Department of Transportation told Corn Palace Stampede it needed to take down the entrance sign due to the upcoming reconstruction of Highway 37, it took court action to do so. Until then, Horsemen's Sports did not allow permission to Corn Palace Stampede to take the signage down.

"There have been some limited communications broaching the subject of a settlement. They came to naught," Corn Palace Stampede Chairman Jim Miskimins wrote in a signed affidavit in February.

That same month, Davies noted that the sides "continue to have differences, and the cooperation between them has been less than stellar."

But Knoff wrote in a court order in April a move by Corn Palace Stampede to get a summary judgment ruling in its favor and that "genuine issues" between both sides need to be worked out. A jury trial in the matter is scheduled for November.