The Corn Palace pops with a mod­ern touch

Many hope South Dakota at­trac­tion’s $4M facelift will at­tract new gen­er­a­tion of tourists — and bring back pre­vi­ous visi­tors


MITCHELL, S.D.— The Corn Palace has been steeped in agri­cul­tural tra­di­tion since 1892, so when the care­tak­ers of one of South Dakota’s most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tions de­cided it was due for some main­te­nance, they also de­cided to gen­tly nudge it into the 21st cen­tury.

Gone are the fi­bre­glass green-and-yel­low onion domes, re­placed by airy steel ver­sions. A new mar­quee, larger corn mu­rals and a walk­out bal­cony have been added out­side. And in per­haps the most mod­ern touch of a $4-mil­lion (U.S.) ren­o­va­tion, the palace’s night face now fea­tures LED light­ing that plays dra­mat­i­cally across the build­ing.

“It needed a facelift,” said Katie Knut­son, di­rec­tor of the Mitchell Con­ven­tion and Visi­tors Bureau. “It needed some­thing to draw a dif­fer­ent crowd.”

The Corn Palace, which also fea­tures an arena to host con­certs and high school and col­lege bas­ket­ball games, draws hun­dreds of thou­sands of visi­tors each year. Knut­son and oth­ers are hop­ing the new look will at­tract a new gen­er­a­tion of tourists — and bring back pre­vi­ous visi­tors in­ter­ested in see­ing what’s changed.

The re­design hasn’t pleased ev­ery- one in Mitchell, a town of about 15,000.

Catina Kost, a Mitchell na­tive who owns a consignment shop on Main Street, said some peo­ple think the “Las-Ve­gasy” look is too much of a change. She said some of the neg­a­tiv­ity may have come from the month­s­long de­lay be­tween the old domes’ re­moval and the new domes go­ing into place.

“There are so many peo­ple diss­ing it and be­ing dis­re­spect­ful about it when you read about it online,” said Kost, who said she likes it.

“I just try to be sup­port­ive,” she said, adding: “It’s our mon­u­ment in town.”

The first Corn Palace was built in 1892 so set­tlers could dis­play the fruits of their harvest. Al­most ev­ery year since, artists have cre­ated colour­ful new mu­rals on the out­side walls us­ing corn of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties and colour, a fall tra­di­tion that costs about $150,000 a year.

The build­ing’s an­nual makeover be­gins each May when crews start tear­ing down the rye and sour dock that sur­round the mu­rals. Work­ers dis­man­tle the pre­vi­ous year’s corn mu­rals in late Au­gust or early Septem­ber.

Lo­cal artist Cherie Ramsdell then cre­ates paint­ings to be en­larged and pro­jected onto full-size black tar pa­per, so her de­signs can be out­lined in a “corn-by-num­bers” pat­tern. A crew of dec­o­ra­tors fol­lows her di­rec­tions on where to nail each half-split cob.

Diane Bollinger, a re­cent first-time visi­tor to the Corn Palace, raved about it as she posed for a pic­ture along­side her hus­band, Allen, and daugh­ter, Lau­ren. The Bollingers were mak­ing a cross-coun­try road trip to Seat­tle from Char­lotte, North Carolina, and their first planned South Dakota stop had been the Bad­lands. Re­peated texts from her friend in Char­lotte, Fran­cis Schon­der, con­vinced the trio to pull off at the Mitchell exit.

“I’m so glad we did,” Bollinger said. “Have you ever seen any­thing like this?”

Matt Mor­ri­son, who moved to town re­cently from Sioux Falls to be­come lead pas­tor of Fu­sion Church, ac­knowl­edged that he doesn’t have the at­tach­ment to the Corn Palace that a Mitchell na­tive might have. But he said he likes the up­dated look.

“The op­tions for light­ing at night def­i­nitely give it an el­e­ment that it didn’t have be­fore that I re­ally like,” Mor­ri­son said.


Fi­bre­glass green-and-yel­low onion domes have been re­placed by airy steel ver­sions atop the pop­u­lar Corn Palace.

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