MITCHELL, S.D. — Drawing more visitors to the Corn Palace is a shared mission among city officials, but Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction has experienced a drop in foot traffic this year.
According to Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt, visitor numbers are down roughly 9,000 compared to this time last year. From Jan. 1, 2018, through July 31, 2018, visitor numbers came in at 243,588, compared to this year’s 234,442, equating to a total decrease of 9,146 visitors in the same time span.
Gauging visitor numbers each year in mid-summer is when Schmidt takes a deeper look into brainstorming future improvements to enhance the Corn Palace experience and boost visitor numbers. The facility received a $4.7 million facelift in 2015.
While the dip in visitor numbers isn’t significant enough to call for alarm, Schmidt said, he is pleased with the overall look and feel of the Corn Palace. In his three years as the facility’s director, Schmidt suggested implementing more daily activities at the Corn Palace during peak tourist season could provide a boost in visitor numbers.
Although Schmidt has brought some of his activity ideas to life in downtown Mitchell, such as welcoming Food Truck Fridays this summer, how do current visitors and tourists perceive Mitchell’s main tourist attraction?
John Schleise, of Green Bay, Wis., was glad his wife guided his young family to get a taste of the Corn Palace experience earlier this week.
Of all the unique features on the exterior of the building, Schleise said it was the corn murals that immediately captured his attention. As someone who has tremendous pride for military veterans, Schleise was deeply moved upon seeing the current “A Salute to the Military” themed murals.
“I really like the patriotism feel, and the murals speak to me,” Schleise said. “I like how there is a laid back feel here, and my wife was here when she was young, so she liked it enough to want to bring me and our kids back. I’m glad she did.”
Despite visitor numbers being down this year, the Corn Palace gift shop sales are up, according to City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein’s figures she provided at a recent city council meeting.
Finding ways to make the Corn Palace more appealing and entertaining to youth visitors is also an area Schmidt has explored throughout his time as director. He noted it as one of the most significant challenges, but he said it’s a vital component to help keep the tourist attraction relevant in today’s world.
Although Mindy Choate, of Tacoma, Wash., was eager to make a short stop at the Corn Palace on her way back home from a vacation, the excitement she had prior to arriving wasn’t exactly shared with her young daughters.
“They weren’t too excited when they learned we were going to visit the Corn Palace, because they viewed it as a building with corn placed around it,” Choate said. “I really like it, but I would say it isn’t an appealing attraction for young kids. My daughters ended up liking the domes and the unique art on the murals, so I think it’s a place you have to just try out and come visit to see what you think."
In addition, the Pre-Sturgis Party that took place Aug. 1 in front of the Corn Palace continues to be a big hit among the community and visitors. Not only did the event bring roughly 5,000 people to downtown Mitchell, Schmidt said it promoted the Corn Palace to a population in a way that’s never been done before.
“That event alone opened up an avenue to appeal to the biking community,” Schmidt said, noting how important events are for the Corn Palace.
In the age of social media, kids and motorcycle fans who caught the video of daredevil Cole Freeman soaring through mid-air on his motorcycle with the backdrop of the Corn Palace now have another reason to visit the tourist attraction.
The event not only helped boost visitor numbers for the day, it helped the Corn Palace appeal to a unique group of people, which is something Schmidt said is important for the landmark’s future.
“We sometimes take this place for granted, and I couldn’t be more proud of how it’s progressed over the years,” Schmidt said.