Have you ever seen a palace made of corn?
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The Corn Palace opened in 1892. Ever since it opened it has been rich with tradition. 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 fiberglass green-and-yellow onion domes. They have been replaced by airy steel versions. A new marquee has been added. Also added outside were larger corn murals and a walkout balcony. But the most modern touch of the $4 million renovation might be the lighting. The palace's night face now features LED lighting. It appears dramatically across the building.
"It needed a facelift," said Katie Knutson. She is the director of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It needed something to draw a different crowd."
The Corn Palace also features an arena. It hosts concerts. It also hosts high school and college basketball games. The palace draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Knutson and others are hoping the new look will attract a new generation of tourists. And that it will bring back previous visitors. They might be interested in seeing what has changed.
The redesign has not pleased everyone in Mitchell. It is a town of about 15,000.
Catina Kost is a Mitchell native. She owns a consignment shop on Main Street. She said some people think the "Las-Vegasy" look is too much of a change. Some of the negativity may have come from the months-long delay between the old domes' removal and the new domes going into place, she said.
"There are so many people dissing it and being disrespectful about it when you read about it online," said Kost. Still, she said she likes it.
"I just try to be supportive. It is our monument in town."
The Corn Palace was where settlers could display the fruits of their harvest back in 1892. Almost every year since, artists have created colorful new murals. They appear on the outside walls. They use corn of different varieties and color. It is a fall tradition.
The cost is about $150,000 a year. The building's annual makeover begins each May. That is 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. This is so her designs can be outlined in a "corn-by-numbers" pattern. A crew of decorators follows her directions. She tells them where to nail each half-split cob.
Diane Bollinger recently visited the Corn Palace for the first time. She raved about it. She posed for a picture alongside her husband, Allen, and daughter, Lauren. The Bollingers were making a cross-country road trip to Seattle. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their first planned South Dakota stop had been the Badlands. But repeated texts from a friend back home convinced the trio to pull off at the Mitchell exit.
"I am so glad we did," Bollinger said. "Have you ever seen anything like this?"
Matt Morrison moved to town recently from Sioux Falls. He became lead pastor of Fusion Church. He admitted that he does not 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 did not have before that I really like," Morrison said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What makes the new look of the Corn Palace seem like Las Vegas?
Write your answers in the comments section below