The Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. has been referred to as the TD Garden of the Midwest and was named by USA Today as one of the Top 10 places to watch high school basketball.

Now, with the implementation of a new online ticketing system and 2014 renovation plans, the goal is to become more of a destination for top performers.

In an effort to expand its ticketing options, the facility recently announced a partnership with Mesa, Ariz.-based TicketForce, which will implement a private label ticketing system and wireless access control.

“We’re finding that people like our venue’s intimate size, so we are now offering more shows and finding additional uses for the building,” said Mark Schilling, venue director. “As a result, it was necessary to look for new ticketing options.”

In the past, the 45,000-square-foot Corn Palace has mainly served as the area’s site for community-type events. With seating for up to 3,200, it is the home of Mitchell High School’s basketball team and hosts approximately 200 games each year. Basketball and volleyball tournaments also are held there regularly.

Years ago, the venue attracted a number of well-known celebrities, including Andy Griffith, Lawrence Welk and The Three Stooges. 

Currently, there has been an increased focus on attracting popular musicians to expand the usage of the venue. Country singers Clint Black and Willie Nelson, along with gospel singer Bill Gaither and comedian Louie Anderson, recently performed at Corn Palace.

It also is the site of the annual Corn Palace Festival, which averages 45,000 attendance and is to be held Aug. 21-25 this year. Along with a number of exhibits, the event includes a carnival (Gold Star Amusements) and live entertainment. Country star Dwight Yoakam is scheduled to perform at the festival this year, along with comedian Terry Fator, country music’s Craig Morgan and Gloriana and the Happy Together tour.

Over 100 Years of Corn 

The original Corn Palace, called ‘The Corn Belt Exposition,’ was established in 1892. The first facility and subsequent venue became too small for the growing city’s community purposes. In 1921, the third Corn Palace venue was completed on Main Street in time for the city’s first Corn Palace Festival. 

“It has undergone a number of renovations and modifications over the years, but is still very functional for everything we do,” Schilling said. 

When it was first built, early settlers displayed the fruits of their harvest on the building’s exterior in order to prove the fertility of South Dakota’s soil. More recently, the venue is distinguished by the large corn murals that cover two sides of its exterior. 

Each year, the Corn Palace committee chooses a mural theme, which is then created in drawings by local artist Cherie Ramsdell. The redecorating process begins on June 4, when 12 decorators begin removing the dock and rye from the prior year and replacing each panel. The process takes about five months to complete. Murals remain intact until the Corn Palace Festival, at which time the next year’s theme is revealed.

Making a Technology Play The move toward upgrading Corn Palace’s ticketing system was undertaken to make ticket buying more convenient for its patrons. 

“In the past, people had to either come to our box office or call us to purchase tickets,” Schilling said. “We needed to adjust to customers who were looking for a convenient way to buy, so we were seeking a system where patrons could purchase tickets online and print them at home.”

The new ticketing system also makes it easier for customers to transfer tickets or purchase tickets for others, which is best facilitated electronically.

“TicketForce’s system works well with what we were looking for, which was a program that is easy for our box office staff and patrons to use,” Schilling said. “We also didn’t want to incorporate huge ticketing fees on orders.”

The beginning of this partnership can be traced back about four years to a conversation between Schilling and TicketForce CEO and founder Lynne King Smith regarding a move toward automated ticketing.

“Any time a facility changes a daily process, it’s a big deal. The goal was to give them a system that’s easy to manage,” said King Smith. 

In addition to the new online ticket-buying option, Corn Palace patrons will still be able to purchase hard tickets at the box office and by phone.

The updated ticketing system is part of a larger plan to bring the 92-year-old facility into the 21st century. In recent years, the facility’s technology upgrades have included new scoreboards and video boards and the addition of WiFi throughout the building. 

More Corn Palace renovations are planned for the summer of 2014. That $6.5-million facelift will include changes to the building’s exterior, a refreshing of the murals and improvements to the handicapped seating areas, restrooms and lobby space. 

Because about half of the venue’s nearly 600,000 visitors are coming to see the unique building rather than attend an event, Corn Palace will soon be adding a corn exhibit purchased from the Indiana State Museum.

This includes a combine simulator, a corn tree that describes the many products produced from corn, a small tractor for kids to play on and an operating corn mill that gives people the opportunity to create cornmeal from scratch.

Interviewed for this story: Lynne King Smith, (480) 726-3581; Mark Schilling, (605) 770-0481