Jul. 14—For the Corn Palace to expand its seating capacity and open up opportunities to host larger-scale events, the stage needs to go.
That's what city leaders found out recently from four architectural engineering firms that pitched proposals in hopes of being tabbed to lead the potential future Corn Palace interior renovation and expansion plan.
While each firm had different ideas for the renovation project, there were some shared plans among them. Knocking down the existing stage on the east side of the building next to the basketball court was an idea that all of the firms agreed needed to happen to expand the seating capacity and floor plan.
"In doing that, we would have a lot of flexibility on that east side to modify the seating. Almost all of the big music artists and performers that play concerts in the Corn Palace bring their own stage with them, so there really isn't a dire need for the stage" Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson told the Mitchell Republic.
By tearing the stage out, Everson said some of the firms indicated it could make way for another basketball court to be constructed, which he noted is an appealing idea. The addition of a second basketball court would open more floor space to be used for events like pool and dart tournaments and conventions.
"The firms that came in had some very interesting ideas, and they all had some great plans. It was a broad brush of their ideas," Everson said. "However, they indicated there is a lot of structure that we can't do anything with on the north and south sides of the building. All four of the firms did a walkthrough of the Corn Palace before the presentations."
Expanding the interior of Mitchell's biggest tourist attraction in hopes of opening up more opportunities for the venue to host larger-scale events has been a shared goal among some city leaders. To attract the type of large events that officials are hoping for, expanding the seating inside the Corn Palace to hold 5,000 people is the "magic number," which city officials say would meet the capacity to hold state high school athletic tournaments.
While the push for renovating and expanding the interior of the Corn Palace has been heating up over the past few months, Everson emphasized "everything is in the early stages." As of now, the Mitchell City Council has yet to approve any Corn Palace renovation plans, but city leaders have been taking steps to advance the potential future project and present the plan in front of the council.
During the private meeting at which the four architectural engineering firms pitched their proposals to lead the Corn Palace expansion project, Everson said some of the firms' designs indicated it won't be feasible to expand the seating to reach the 5,000 mark without adding on to the building. However, he said some of the proposals that came up short of the 5,000 seats were fairly close, some of which hovered a little over 4,000. The existing seating capacity is 3,500.
"We set a goal of 5,000 seats, and it might be possible to get real close to that number," Everson said. "But we were hoping to see what we could do without expanding the footprint of the building."
Designs to expand interior
The four firms that were selected to present their request for proposals to the city included Mitchell-based Ciavarella Design Architects; Stone Group, of Sioux Falls; Schemmer, of Sioux Falls; and designArch, of Brookings. Everson, several council members and Public Works Director Joe Schroeder were the city officials who heard the RFP presentations.
To utilize the expanded floor space, some of the firms pitched adding retractable seats along the east side of the court, where the retractable bleachers sit as of now.
Council President Kevin McCardle is among the city leaders who has been pushing for an interior expansion project, which he identified as one of his biggest goals for the near future. As one of the council members who sat in on the four presentations, McCardle said the design concepts that showed retractable seats on the east side of the court and increasing the slope of the soft seats along the west side stood out as the "most interesting" ideas.
"It was interesting to see how increasing the slope of the soft seats could add quite a bit more seating, and it reminded me of the Sanford Pentagon setup a bit," McCardle said. "I also didn't realize how far apart the soft seats are to the court."
The distance between the basketball court and the soft seats on the west side is an area where some firms said there could be additional seating, McCardle noted. With the slate of basketball games played at the Corn Palace each year, McCardle said adding more seats in the gap between the court and the soft seats would provide an even better spectator experience.
"Everyone loves playing at the Corn Palace, but there is room for improvement on the spectator seating," McCardle said. "With the stage coming out, it could bring fans much closer to the action."
While the west and east sides of the building are the areas where the Corn Palace has room to expand and modify, Everson said it was made clear that the north and south sides won't be feasible to add a significant amount of seating, if any.
Now that city leaders have heard the proposals from the interested firms, the next step in the process will entail the creation of a committee made up of several council members, Mayor Everson, Schroeder and a few private citizens who have yet to be determined. The committee will make the final determination on the firm who will lead the interior expansion and renovation project, if the plan materializes.
Bringing more larger-scale events, means more revenue for the city. And that's what's driving many of the city leaders who are seeking to make the Corn Palace project come to life.
According to Councilman Dan Sabers, Mitchell ranks third in the state for cities with the most hotels, trailing behind Rapid City and Sioux Falls. With that in mind, Sabers said the local hotel and hospitality industry is in a great position to host larger events in the city. Rather than building a new event center in a different location, Sabers is in favor of expanding Mitchell's biggest event venue to attract the type of crowds he's hoping for.
"We have the third most hotels in the state, so we are one of few cities in the state that has the hotel space to host big events like state tournaments. The Corn Palace is a great event center, but it could be better and I'm glad we're looking at that," Sabers said.
However, Everson said funding such a big city project will likely be the biggest challenge that could stand in the way of the project. While the firms that pitched their proposals didn't provide any cost estimates for the plans they presented, Everson said city officials have been exploring ways to attract sponsors and potential private donors.
"It would be very nice if we could get this project to go forward, but there are still a lot of unknowns and funding questions that we need to get worked out," Everson said. "We're looking at things like naming rights for the court for big sponsors and donors."